New Leicester out-half Zack Henry is hoping to inspire young non-white rugby players by proving colour should be not a factor when coaches are deciding what roles to hand out on the pitch. Henry believes too many coaches dealing with very young players equate the colour of a player’s skin with particular positions and do not include decision-making roles in that thinking.
The recent Tigers signing has highlighted the issue after a taking a very different route to the Gallagher Premiership after being cut by Harlequins from their academy while a teenager.
After building his confidence in university rugby, Henry headed to France to play for Rouen and most recently Nevers in the second and third divisions of the French system, building a reputation as a goal-kicking No10 who is also a running threat.
Leicester have now given Henry the chance in English rugby he thought that had gone and the 25-year-old is eager to make up for lost time while also promoting the talents of BAME players in decision-making roles.
He told RugbyPass: “I hope my success does help change perceptions. It is great to now be at Leicester and I don’t want to be the guy always banging on about this.
The club is excited to confirm the signing of @ZackHenry10 for the 2020/21 season.
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) February 25, 2020
“I’m here to play rugby but at the same time if I can use my experience to motivate people it would be a message from me and something I would look to do going forward. I would like to inspire any BAME or kid of colour that if you are playing rugby at five then you can be a No10, a kicker or a No9 decision-maker.
“I reference the NFL in America because the quarter-back was seen as a white man’s game, intelligently educated. Now, we are starting to see black quarterbacks who are rapid, powerful and can also make those split-second decisions and run a game of American football.
“I’m not at the grassroots level now but what I can speak about are my own experiences. Growing up I played a lot of rugby in England and a lot of the time a young black kid at five, six or seven is told to go on the wing because you’re going to be an athlete, not a decision-maker.
“It seemed to me that certain young black kids in teams I was playing in were not given the chance to be a decision-maker – one of the intelligent positions.”
Geordan Murphy signed Henry because of his “maturity, intelligence and experience” and the Leicester out-half will be backing up England’s George Ford while also vying with young Tom Hardwick for the role. Having survived life in the French leagues after former England captain Richard Hill brought him to Rouen where he is head coach, Henry believes he is equipped to make an impact in the Premiership.
He added: “The route that I have taken away from England has helped and university was also massive because young pro rugby players don’t necessarily get the chance to go to university. “Getting dropped at the time was devastating for any aspiring young athlete but looking back those negatives have been turned into positives. Moving to France helped me both as a player and a person.
“I’m 25 and people might say it’s a late time to be coming back to the Premiership but without all of those things, I don’t think I would be here now. I could write a book about my time in France and I have got some insane stories. At the clubs I played there were so many different nationalities and I learnt so much about the world that you may not have done staying in England.
“The passion of the fans is amazing. We would have 10,000 at a game in the second division, and also learning French is going to stick with me for life. The professionalism can be a bit blurred in France and it comes with the territory. Nutrition the night before a game, people eating what they want and having a few beers tends to be the negative side if you’re trying to be as professional as possible!”
"I mean, yesterday it was knocking up in the main sports category with Tyson Fury and Mike Tyson, so that is awesome."
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 3, 2020
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