Brian O'Driscoll has had his say on Graham Henry's arrival at Leinster
More than a few eyebrows were raised when Leinster announced that World Cup winning coach Graham Henry had been recruited as a consultant on a temporary basis but, according to Brain O’Driscoll, it provides Leo Cullen a gild-edged opportunity to expedite his development as a coach.
These are strange times for the Irish provinces. Connacht, the traditional runt of the litter, won the Pro 12 title by soundly defeating Leinster in the finale, and while doing so, utilisied the buccaneering brand of rugby employed all season.
Johan Erasmus arrived in Munster under the remit of Director of Rugby but, as Anthony Foley’s indigenous coaching ticket was ruthlessly dissolved, and his own role abbreviated beyond recognition, it became abundantly clear who now occupies the true seat of power at the Southern province.
As such, upon hearing of Henry’s arrival, it was all too forgivable to assume that Leo Cullen could be suffering a similar fate to Foley.
Until that is, we were told that Cullen had decided to call on the man who led the All Blacks to a World Cup triumph in 2011.
O’Driscoll, who played under Henry with the 2001 Lions, plans to watch closely and see how the move pans out.
Henry, who worked wonders with Argentina prior to last year’s World Cup, reports for duty at UCD at the end of the month.
“It’s very interesting. I’m intrigued as to what value Graham Henry will add. I’m sure it will be substantial. It’s a long time since I worked with Graham Henry in 2001, I’d say he’s a vastly different coach than then. He’s won the ultimate competition in the world in a very pressurised situation.
“I’m sure Leo will learn an awful lot from a coaching aspect in terms of what skills he’s brought to the All Black and what he’s done for Argentina as well.
“Hopefully we can get some of his knowledge and understanding of how he sees the game moving forward and how he sees Leinster as a team evolving.
“I’d imagine he’s a guy who’ll have done a lot of research and watched a lot of games, so he’d know them well.”
Leinster’s heyday is now firmly in the past and, in all honesty, another phase of domination could not seem further away.
Since Joe Schmidt departed to assume the national job in 2013, the fare has been sporadically impressive but largely forgettable.
The erstwhile Matt O’Connor secured a Pro 12 title and a quarter and semi -final spot in the Heineken Cup, but his methods, and the style of play they yielded, were deemed turgid and unworthy.
Leo Cullen, after just a year as the Blues’ forwards coach, succeeded O’Connor and drafted in a group of young Irish coaches low on experience. The results, needless to say, have been mixed.
They failed to progress from a pool containing Bath, Wasps and Toulon in the Champions Cup, though finished the regular league campaign at the summit of the table. Their best performance of the season was in beating Ulster in the semi-final, only for Connacht to burst the bubble a week later.
Which is why, O’Driscoll reckons, that it was very prudent of Cullen to ask a more seasoned and vaunted coach to lend a helping hand while it was still possible.
“It’s smart business by Leo. I’m sure he understands that he was thrown in the deep end before he anticipated getting his chance.
“It’s very hard to turn the job down but at the same time it’s a huge amount to take on with a relatively inexperienced coaching ticket.
“He can almost fast-track his knowledge (with Henry on board) into becoming an experienced coach in a short period of time. I’d imagine that’s what he’s looking to do.”
In this sense, too, Cullen does not suffer the same ignominy as Foley, because Henry, allegedly, was not acquired as a tacit replacement.
“If someone’s brought in over your head, then maybe there’s a perception that all’s not right, but when your coach goes ‘I need a helping hand and I can learn something from this guy’ I think that changes perception and perception can be a powerful tool.”
Most of the Leinster faithful will be curious, as will everyone else, what sort a tangible impact Henry can make in such a short time, given his contract is for no more than a month.
O’Driscoll is as curious and optimistic as every other Blues fan.
“I’ve never worked under a consultant before. I’ve never been in that environment. He’s obviously done some work in the past with Argentina and you can see they’ve benefitted from it. You’d be hopeful he can do the same at Leinster.
“A month is not a long time, but besides the stuff he does with the team, I’m sure Leo will be utilising every hour he can get, talking to him and drawing as much knowledge as he can from him.
“Leo’s a smart guy. He’ll know what information is relevant to him and what will be good for the team. I think it will work out really well and I think it’s a clever piece of business by Leo.”