Henry pays ultimate price for Welsh humiliation

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The Independent Online

Graham Henry, the so-called "Great Redeemer" who left Dublin on Sunday in greater need of redemption than anyone else, is no longer the national coach of Wales.

The Welsh Rugby Union confirmed the New Zealander's departure from his £250,000-a-year post last night, and while the announcement took many senior figures by surprise, it was the inevitable consequence of last weekend's 50-point Six Nations hiding at the hands of the Irish – the most humiliating championship defeat ever experienced by a proud rugby country.

According to the WRU, the decision was mutual. "It has been agreed by both parties that Graham will leave his position this week," Glanmor Griffiths, the chairman of the union, said. "Both sides have thought deeply about this decision, and believe it has been taken with the best interests of Welsh rugby in mind.

"The WRU general committee would like to thank Graham for his contribution to Welsh rugby since his appointment as our national coach in August 1998, and would like to wish him and his family all the best."

A notoriously prickly character who forged a worldwide reputation as a tactician of the front rank during his spell with the great Auckland side of the mid-1990s, the former headmaster was far from the most popular coach ever to dip a toe in the turbulent waters of the Welsh game.

His man-management skills, or lack of them, led to fallings out with a number of leading players: Rob Howley, the Cardiff scrum-half, was barely on speaking terms with him at one point, and Scott Gibbs, the revered Swansea centre, quit international rugby after losing the support of the Henry regime. Only recently, the Lions flanker Colin Charvis stomped off on holiday after a disagreement with the coach.

There were problems during last summer's Lions tour of Australia, too. The first non-British Isles national to secure the most sought-after coaching job in the northern hemisphere game, Henry's abrupt manner and habit of belittling out-of-form players came close to provoking open rebellion from members of his squad, particularly those among the midweek "dirt-trackers" who felt marginalised by the management. When Austin Healey, the Leicester wing, branded Henry a "Kiwi runt" in a book published after the trip, the sound of dissenting voices was less than deafening.

Henry did have his moments, though. His side denied England the 1999 Grand Slam by beating them at Wembley, and when the coach prevailed twice over the powerful Argentinians on Puma soil and then plotted a victory over South Africa in Cardiff – Wales had never before beaten the Springboks – the "Redeemer" tag became something more than a nickname. However, Wales failed to make it beyond the World Cup quarter-finals that autumn, and despite the odd famous victory – the win over France in Paris last year was a classic – his star fell into the descendant.

Insiders in the Welsh squad indicated that Henry, contracted to the end of the 2003 World Cup, was prepared to quit as early as last Sunday evening: he consulted senior players, including the captain Scott Quinnell, and was persuaded to chew the fat for a few days.

Many in Wales expected him to stay put through the current Six Nations, which has four rounds still to run. Even when the outspoken Les Williams, vice-chairman of the WRU, publicly called for his departure on Monday, the consensus of opinion was that Henry would see the campaign out and then slip off home at some quiet point during the summer.

Not for the first time in the professional era, Wales are in dire straits. In many respects, they are experiencing the political agonies that consumed English rugby for more than five years: unable to agree on the optimum structure at domestic level, they have saddled the Test team with an increasingly thankless task. Now, they are coachless at the top end. Gareth Jenkins, the respected Llanelli coach, will be the people's choice as Henry's successor, but he will look hard at his options before he jumps into the flames generated by the Red Dragonhood.

Ieuan Evans believes the Wales team must shoulder their share of the blame for Henry's departure.

"There are far more issues at stake than the coach," Evans, the former Wales and Lions winger, said. "The players and the WRU all have a responsibility for the predicament Wales are in.

"The one thing that I feel is that if you are playing for your country you don't have to play for the coach; you play for your country, your family – to lack motivation because of the coach, I find hard to swallow."

Gwyn Jones, who captained Wales under Henry's predecessor, Kevin Bowring, said: "Henry lost the dressing-room 18 months ago. I hope this will spark change."

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