Rugby Union: We must be all for one

Jonathan Davies suggests Henry's arrival brings a rare chance to unite Welsh rugby
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The Independent Online
WE don't often get the chance to applaud the Welsh Rugby Union but the bold way they set out to get New Zealand's Graham Henry as their new coach and stuck at it until they succeeded is to be admired - particularly as the English tried very hard to appoint Henry a year ago and failed. A Welsh victory over England under any circumstances is most welcome.

A rumour that Wales first offered the job to Paul Daniels but he didn't think he could do that sort of trick is just the latest doing the rounds in the Welsh rugby joke season that was still at its height when Henry arrived on Friday for a weekend of meeting people such as the media and the top club coaches.

He doesn't need telling that it'll be his job to stop the jokes and give us a team worth getting serious about. I've never met Henry but he needs no introduction with a record like his. Under his guidance the Auckland Blues won the Super 12 title for two seasons running and many rate them as the best team in the world. He has also been coaching the New Zealand second string and would surely have taken over eventually from the All Blacks coach, John Hart.

The NZRU were so upset at losing him that they brought in a new rule banning him from ever returning to coach the All Blacks. It was a ridiculous gesture but the fact that they are so annoyed is even more of a bonus.

He will have realised that what he is leaving behind in no way resembles what awaits him. He not only has to build a good team in double-quick time, he will have to knock the entire national rugby scene into shape in order to do so. I console myself with the thought that he must have made himself fully aware of what he is taking on.

I also trust that Wales are prepared for the upheaval he is bound to cause. The WRU have done some daft things in their time but I am sure they wouldn't be paying him pounds 250,000 a year if they didn't intend to spare him the "death by committee" fate of many of his predecessors.

He is the eighth coach we've had in 10 years and the previous seven all came up against the lethally archaic system of control in Wales. And one of the reasons I am excited about Henry's appointment is that it is 10 years almost to the day that I and a group of Welsh players returned from getting a hammering in New Zealand desperate for Wales to adopt the All Black methods. I offered to speak to the WRU's annual general meeting to explain the lessons we'd learned the hard way but they didn't even bother to reply. Now they've handed the entire game to a New Zealander. It is an historic and revolutionary move that will bring much satisfaction to more than a few of us.

He can't turn us into All Blacks overnight. I'm not even sure we'd want to be. But I'm sure he will help us rediscover what once made Welsh rugby a force in the world. If he can do that, he'll be able to take us to a tribunal claiming that he's underpaid.

Already, he is showing the right signs. He will have a small support team of two or three experienced Welsh coaches who will familiarise him with the Welsh way plus the rugby politics which are very important. He will seek the help of a three-man selection panel and today he will outline his initial plans to the coaches of our top clubs.

This is a vital area. The clubs v country conflict has already sapped much of our strength and will continue to do so until it is resolved. Even now, we don't know where, or against whom, our best clubs are going to be playing when the new season starts in a month's time.

I believe that Wales needs a strong club base, and that one day we'll have one, but everyone must put all differences aside for a year and establish one priority - the Welsh team. As good as he is, Henry can't do a thing without full backing.

The most urgent and important task for Welsh rugby is the restoration of pride in our national team. Nothing else matters except how we fare in the Five Nations, on our tour of Argentina next summer and in the World Cup next autumn when we have to justify our role as hosts or shrivel away in embarrassment.

Nothing tops that as a priority and, however the new coach wants to structure the season to give him maximum help, the clubs should give him their full co-operation. He can bring so much to raise game-awareness and understanding among the players and to improve their fitness and skills but there is a limit to what he can do alone.

There will be plenty of time to resume the civil war when the World Cup is over. But if Wales have not made us proud again, it will hardly be a war worth fighting.