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Democratic or dictatorial, best coaching system is a winning system


Spiro Zavos

Richie McCaw ... favoured Graham Henry over Robbie Deans as coach of New Zealand.

Richie McCaw ... favoured Graham Henry over Robbie Deans as coach of New Zealand. Photo: Reuters

THERE has been a fierce debate this week about the good rucking Richie McCaw has given his former coach, Robbie Deans, in his rugbiography The Open Side. McCaw revealed that in 2007, after New Zealand's failed Rugby World Cup campaign, he backed Graham "Ted" Henry to continue as coach of the All Blacks over Deans. And the reason for this support: "Robbie doesn't appear to want to be challenged by his assistants and won't allow the kind of full-on debate that Ted encourages with Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen."

It's history now that Henry went on to coach the All Blacks to victory in last year's World Cup. Deans coached the Wallabies to third place. Does this mean that Henry's collaborative system is superior to Deans's one man-band system? I don't think so.

The much-praised (by McCaw especially) collaborative system of coaching produced a tremendous triumph last year. But it has to be remembered it also produced the worst World Cup result ever by the All Blacks, in 2007, when France booted them out in the quarter-final. Throughout this tournament, the coaching group could not decide on the strongest side. They played a different team every match. Jake White, a one man-band coach, fielded virtually the same Springboks side throughout the tournament and won the Webb Ellis Cup. Moreover, the All Blacks held endless meetings, which, says the pragmatic Jerry Collins, bored the players senseless. There was too much sizzle in the preparation and not enough steak.

McCaw notes in his book, for instance, that the All Blacks did not have a drop-goal play in their game plan for the tournament. Yet the tournaments in 1995 and 2003 were decided in extra time by a successful field goal. And in the losing match against France the All Blacks had 73 per cent of territory and numerous opportunities to kick the field goal that would have got them through to the semi-finals.

By last year's tournament, Henry, Smith and Hansen had got the collaborative coaching system right. They worked out their best side and generally stuck with it. And the emphasis on developing the game plan was to give "clarity" to the players.

You don't need to have a cabal of coaches to achieve clarity of method for a team. A smart and dictatorial head coach can do this, too. Does anyone know who Vince Lombardi's assistant coaches were? What about Craig Bellamy's, Des Hasler's or Wayne Bennett's? The most successful Wallabies coach, with a 76 per cent winning record, was Rod Macqueen. Who were his assistants? Macqueen was a one-man band.

By way of contrast, during the Wallabies' failed World Cup campaign in 1995, when the team was booted out in the quarter-finals, the coach, Bob Dwyer, was accused of having too many assistants helping him out. Dwyer had won the World Cup in 1991 with a minimal coaching staff. Clive Woodward was a one man-band coach when he won the 2003 World Cup. But his 2005 British and Irish Lions were defeated easily in every Test by the All Blacks when he was supported by a contingent of assistants. Henry's collaborative coaching with the Pumas in this season's Rugby Championship could hardly be deemed to be a success.

McCaw reveals that he told the chief executive of the NZRU, Steve Tew, he could work with Deans as the All Blacks coach but would prefer Henry to stay on. Who is to say that a Deans-coached All Blacks wouldn't have won last year's cup?

The last Super Rugby title won by the Crusaders was in 2008, with Deans as the coach. Several players from that squad formed the heart of the All Blacks who won last year's cup. Deans won with Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Kieran Read. And so did Henry. It is the coach who is important and not the system he uses to get the best out of his players.

32 comments so far

  • It is what it is. Good on Ritchie for coming out & saying whats on his mind.
    Proof is in the pudding. Let the results of Sir Henry's record speak for itself.
    No if's, and's, but's, or maybe's cut it with me.

    Oi Boi
    Date and time
    October 14, 2012, 11:04AM
    • One of Rod Macqueen's assistants during that golden Wallaby era was current Rebels coach John Muggleton. His defensive patterns and drills were a major part of Rod's success. The Wallabies were almost impossible to score against under their tenure, as the single try scored against them in the whole '99 RWC tournament can attest to.

      But I agree with the premise of the article. A team of coaches doesn't necessarily get better results than a single coach. The coaching team has to work well together for starters. But it's the players that ultimately determine a coach's record of success.

      Bring the Noise
      Date and time
      October 14, 2012, 12:31PM
      • Spiro,

        Are you getting tired of pushing Deans' barrow? What you have loaded it with is getting a bit ripe. This is very selective journalism here and massaging the facts to fit the story you have been pushing harder and harder for the last three or more years.

        Just to highlight for the less knowledgeable reader, the 2007 All Black side had some flaws, as did the 2003 side which were exposed in the lead up to the RWC. These were preyed upon and exploited to good effect on both occasions. The meetings you mentioned could have played a part but their play as highlighted was the cause of their demise.The 2007 Boks needed to have that settled and static team as without that finely honed group to play that limited game plan White employed it all came tumbling down, as we saw when Habana wasn't there to apply the pressure to the kick chase.

        As for Dwyers mistake in 1995, it wasn't game plan, it was over reliance on ageing stars and injured players. Have a look through the starting list and you will see many that were under an injury cloud including Campo and Kearns. I also wonder how much of a distraction the World Rugby Corporation was for the Australian players leading into that tournament.

        Onto your argument about assistants, I have no idea about the league assistants not watching league at all, Dwyer's forwards assistant was Alec Evans and Macqueen's was the current Qld coach Ewen Mackenzie.

        Date and time
        October 14, 2012, 9:13PM
        • Agree Spiro, no one approach rules. However, 3 world class coaches/brains is probably better than 1 if they're prepared to work together.

          Red Lawlor
          Date and time
          October 15, 2012, 8:41AM
          • Memories are so short.

            Graham Henry coached for want of a better word The British and Irish Lions to one of the tourists worst series. (take a look at the video of the behind the scenes look at that tour to see) He lost a World Cup with the All Blacks and after being the first losing WC Coach was given a second chance. In the final the All Blacks won by one point after being outplayed by France. In effect many are saying one point makes him the best coach - pull the other one.

            Robbie Deans has dragged the Wallabies from a fifth in the World ranking to number two, with a squad that has suffered the worst injuries of any previous Wallaby outfit by miles.

            The players he has in his team have in the main played with great heart and a fair amount of skill and deserve the countries praise not its condemnation.

            All these calls for Ewen McKenzie also a good coach, ut let's not forget he did coach Australia's strongest province for years without success. One Red Season and a Wallaby Coach doesn't make.

            Date and time
            October 15, 2012, 9:03AM
            • Henry openly admits that he made serious errors when he coached the Lions. In his book he states that he was in no way ready to coach any team on a long international tour let alone one like the Lions. The mark of the man is that he recognised the errors he made then & in 2007 & learnt from them. I agree that no single system is a blueprint for success. What McCaw is saying is that in 2007 he believed that Henys collabatorive style was a better fit for the All Blacks than Deans 'my way or the highway' doctrine. Does a single point make Henry the best coach? I would say no but a winning percentage of over 84% makes him one fo the best.

              Shane D
              Date and time
              October 15, 2012, 12:43PM
            • Memory's certainly are short Longpass. Lets begin with yours shall we? The Henry coached lions won 1of 3 tests against the world champions at the hieght of thier powers. You shou'd also know that the Lions win less than 50% of their tours anyway & have been blanked 3 times & lost 3 of 4 test matches on multiple tours. It wasn't a great result but it was not even close to their worst tour results. One of their actual worst tour results ever was against the Henry coached AB's who won 3 of 3 by an average of 20 points!

              You also forget that Robbie has now lost 2 RWC's as a coach. He also took over afterJohn Connoly bombed at the 2007 RWC which sets the rankings. No matter who took over as coach, their ranking would have improved. He also has the record largest Wallabies loss of all time, record losing streak to the Ab's, losess to Samoa, Scotland (x2), Ireland & Wales.

              The Winners Circle
              Date and time
              October 15, 2012, 9:17PM
          • As a Crusaders and All Blacks supporter I was horrified when Robbie crossed the Tasman. He had devised the game plan of the most successful Super franchise, and now had the chance to turn it against us. It was a nerve-racking time for NZ supporters.

            But oh how wrong we were to be worried. Robbie is an excellent coach, but it's become apparent that he's an excellent coach for a specific breed of player - the kind they grow down in the lush pastures of Canterbury. Men that are hard, but humble.

            He cannot bring out the best in pampered, egotistical players, because Robbie is a visionary, and as such, he has to be the biggest ego in the room.

            Classic example is Quade Cooper - freakishly good player sometimes, walking disaster at others - and he has the most montrous ego I have seen in a long time. Quade cannot improve because he is the sort of player who will only ever pretend to listen.

            A counter-example would be SBW. Mega-talented natural player, who was performing well below his potential. But he came into the All Blacks with a humility about his playing style, and a desire to learn. The results spoke for themselves.

            Without humility, players will not learn a thing - especially under a coach like Robbie.

            J B
            Date and time
            October 15, 2012, 9:17AM
            • Thank you JB, for your wise words and another eloquent lesson in the art of humility from a learned All Blacks supporter.

              Date and time
              October 15, 2012, 6:01PM
            • LOL. I never said I was humble - but plenty of the All Blacks are (astounding given their god-like status in NZ), and there are definitely Wallabies who are too (e.g. James O'Connor, Kurtley Beale). Those are the ones that despite some ups and downs do seem to be making progress under Robbie.
              QC though? Forget it. Until he learns to shut his mouth and listen, he'll never improve, and will continue to be a liability in the team.
              Which, frankly, is totally okay by me and all the other PROUD All Black supporters.

              J B
              Date and time
              October 16, 2012, 2:21PM

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