Henry: 'I've enough problems without the England job'
Graham Henry was not at his most waspish – why would he have been, after guiding New Zealand to the world title, landing an 18kg kingfish all on his own in the Bay of Islands and spending some quality time living the high life in Paris? – but there was enough of a sting about the celebrated coach when it was suggested he might like to take on the vacant England job. "I have enough problems," he said, decisively. "I'm still contracted to the New Zealand union, I want to live in New Zealand, I don't have the time or the energy or the desire." It was a "no", unquestionably and unmistakably, although Henry sounded even more dismissive by pronouncing it "nah".
In the immediate aftermath of last month's recapturing of the Webb Ellis Trophy, the 65-year-old had appeared to show interest in linking up with England in an advisory capacity – a suggestion that led some to place him close to the top of the Rugby Football Union's wish list when Martin Johnson wisely called time on his unsuccessful stint as national manager. Yesterday, the last vestiges of that interest, such as it was, had evaporated, presumably because Henry now understood the grisly nature of the black comedy currently being acted out at Twickenham.
He even backtracked on widely quoted comments that had been presented as an endorsement of Johnson – words to the effect that the RFU might be unwise to get rid of a manager who had spent three and a half years learning the ropes and could now use his experience to make a better fist of things ahead of the home World Cup in 2015.
"I wasn't talking about anyone in particular when I made that statement, which was a general statement," Henry said. "I do believe that too often, unions sack people or move people on when they are in a position to get better at what they're doing: if someone is a quality coach, they can learn a lot from experience. But I can't assess Martin as a coach because I've never seen him coach. I know him from 2001 [when Henry took the British and Irish Lions to Australia with Johnson as skipper] and I was very impressed, but that was a coach-captain relationship. I know nothing about the present situation."
Henry is, however, intrigued by the possibility of hooking up with a major European club side at Heineken Cup level. "I've had no concrete offers, but I've had a chat with a couple of people," he revealed. "I'm interested in that side of things because the tournament interests me. It's a great championship. I don't think it's something for this season, but maybe next year..."
In town to coach the Barbarians, who play Australia at Twickenham this weekend, the New Zealander did not rule out a return to Test rugby in some capacity at some indeterminate point in the future, but said there was "zero chance" of any kind of comeback in the next 12 months. "I need some recovery time," he explained. "A World Cup is a hell of a hard thing to win. Bloody hard. Things are always different in those tournaments because teams play better than they normally do – play with more emotion. I enjoyed the competition, except for the last half-hour of the final when I shat myself, and I feel very privileged to have been a part of something that touched the whole country, a country that has had its struggles with earthquakes and a mining disaster. Now it's time to move on and do something new. The Barbarians have given me that opportunity and I'm grateful."
It is generally acknowledged that the Baa-Baas, coaches and players alike, spend more time in the bar than on the training field in the week of a big match, and Henry, once a grammar school teacher of considerable repute, has no plans to be particularly headmasterly with the likes of Victor Matfield, Jerome Kaino and Sylvain Marconnet in his charge for the week. "Bringing players from 11 countries together in four or five days, with about three hours on the practice paddock, is obviously a challenge," he admitted, "but we have a lot of experienced people in the squad and where there's experience, there's pride. I think we'll give the Aussies a game."
Yet for all his sudden embrace of the laissez-faire approach to preparation, Henry may find time to set England's most gifted and occasionally troublesome rugby exile, the outside-half Danny Cipriani, on the straight and narrow. "He has ability, there's no doubting it," the coach said. "He's had a couple of issues in the past, I gather, but we all have issues when we're young. It's about him getting it all together on the track and doing it consistently. I'll be interested to see how he goes."
Meanwhile, the No 1 choice of many RFU members as Johnson's successor, the South African coach Nick Mallett, is very much in the governing body's thoughts, despite rejecting an initial approach last week. Mallett said yesterday that he was unlikely to consider a full-time role until June – he is spending time in Cape Town with his family – but added: "I'll consider any offers on their merits." Fascinatingly, England play three Tests in June... against the Springboks in South Africa.
Pig of a fine for Samoa's Vaea – 100 to be precise
Mike Tindall's £25,000 fine for his antics at the Rugby World Cup suddenly seems lenient after Samoa's manager was ordered to pay his village 100 female pigs after his side's poor display in New Zealand. The fine was handed out to Tuala Matthew Vaea by elders of the village of Leauva'a for disgracing his village and discrediting his chiefly title.
When giving feedback to Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi after the World Cup, captain Mahonri Schwalger reportedly said Vaea and other Samoan officials had treated the World Cup as a 'massive holiday' and frequently ignored duties and spent too much time drinking.
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