I was going to have a rant about the willingness of the media to forgive Graham Henry his World Cup sins , but it’s all written here in an impressive piece of writing by Chris Rattue. Well actually, I’ll still have a rant, just because I can.
In the face of an impressive Grand Slam win, there seems to be rumbling that Henry has somehow been vindicated. They are calling it redemption. What preposterous false logic.
A key factor in the success of this season has been the decision by Henry to do almost the opposite of what he did in the disastrous World Cup campaign. In particular, getting rid of the rotation policy. When we lost to France, having fielded combinations that had not yet played together, it wasn’t just the losing that hurt. What really, really hurt was the sheer avoidability of the situation. Even now, I sometimes awake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, completely enraged at the sheer stupidity of the rotation policy.
Here’s a challenge: name one team that has been victorious in some kind of World Series without playing at least three games together. You can’t! It’s ridiculous to think that anyone could. Elementary. Oh, and don’t get me started on the fact we hadn’t practiced a drop goal scenario, or that we didn’t seem to have a plan B when our original game plan wasn’t playing right, and… Sorry, those scars are still fresh. I digress.
The thing is, Henry has a history of trying things – failing – and then reversing the change without ever speaking of it again. Remember the flat back line in 2004? That died a quiet death. I hope Henry’s learnt his lesson from those failures, but I get the sense that the All Blacks coaching staff feel the need to justify their existence – that they must prove their intelligence. It’s not enough to win, they need to win by radically changing the way the game has been played before. New systems, greater efficiencies, all that jazz.
But if time (and this current season) has proven anything, it’s that simplicity works. Field consistent sides and you build chemistry. Keep your backline staggered and you create space. Just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it’s not clever. It’s just that you didn’t think of it first.
So Henry’s success this year doesn’t spell redemption, but I hope it’s a sign that he is less restless to prove his own coaching genius. Maybe the loss gave him the shot of humility he needed to stop messing with proven formulas. Vindication? No, that would be like giving someone the answers to a test they had just failed, and then proclaiming their genius after they sit it again and pass.