Former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry says his time as Wales head coach laid the platform for his World Cup-winning run as New Zealand boss, but revealed his tenure in the UK “just about killed me”.
Henry led Wales to an impressive record of 20 wins from 34 matches between 1998 and 2002, and even led the British and Irish Lions on their 2001 tour of Australia, which ended in a 2-1 test series defeat.
However, it was the passion of the Welsh fans that proved to be overbearing for 74-year-old.
“I think they [the Welsh nation] are just different, they are beautiful people but they are so bloody passionate,” Henry told the All Blacks podcast.
“They feel they are in the team. There are only two and a half million of them in Wales; a lot more live outside of the principality,but they feel part of the team. They’ve got the jerseys on and they’re into it, so you don’t get any relief when you’re in Wales, everybody wants a part of you.
“You’re walking down the street, you can’t go anywhere because people just crowd around you and want to ask you questions. You can’t go out and have a pint, unless you’re with a few other guys who can get around you and give you a bit of protection.
“But that is good too and it’s just that they’re so passionate.
“God I just loved that experience but it just about killed me at the finish and I had to run away and recover.
“I also coached the Lions in 2001 and those experiences changed my life.”
Henry, who led the Blues to the first two Super 12 titles in 1996 and 1997 and Auckland to four straight NPC crowns between 1993 and 1996, said his decision to leave New Zealand for Wales stemmed from his desire to coach the All Blacks.
After leaving his post as Wales boss in 2002, Henry was appointed All Blacks head coach following New Zealand’s semi-final exit at the 2003 World Cup in Australia.
Despite bowing out of the 2007 tournament at the quarter-final stage to hosts France, Henry coached the All Blacks to their first World Cup crown in 24 years at the 2011 event in front of a home crowd.
“I wanted to coach the All Blacks but they didn’t know who I was, even though I had been coaching Auckland and the Blues for six or seven years,” Henry told the All Blacks podcast.
“So the Welsh asked me to coach them, I asked New Zealand Rugby would I have a chance of coaching the All Blacks and I didn’t get a very positive response, so I decided to go north.
“I think I was probably the first guy to do that sort of stuff, at that level anyway, it was a fantastic experience.
“I learned so much about myself – it just about killed me.”
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