WELLINGTON, July 9 – All Blacks coach Graham Henry has been given the chance to put right their humiliating early exit from the last rugby World Cup with his reappointment until after the 2011 competition.Henry controversially kept the job after the 2007 World Cup quarter-final loss to France and his two year contract was due for renewal at the end of this year.
But New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs said Thursday the decision to keep Henry and assistant coaches Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen for another two years had already been taken by the union’s board in April.
"We agreed the time was right to consider the next two years, and the reappointment reflects our confidence in them," Hobbs said.
"They have a formidable record and we hold them in very high regard. They are totally committed to New Zealand rugby and have become an important part of the wider organisation."
Unlike the anger from many fans that greeted the reappointment of Henry and his assistants after the 2007 failure, the decision to give them another two years came as no surprise.
Henry’s main rival after 2007 was Robbie Deans, but he is now committed to the Wallabies.
Henry, 63, described the reappointment as "an honour and a privilege".
"After the World Cup, I don’t think any of us thought we would continue," he told reporters. "But after our review and the support of other people and support of the guys we coach, we decided to carry on.
"We managed to do reasonably well last year, we’ve got major challenges this year obviously and we’re building quite a new side.
"And there’s obviously challenges on the horizon," he said in reference to the World Cup.
For now the focus is on the Tri-Nations, which could see the All Blacks struggling to retain their title after bringing a large number of new faces into the side and performing indifferently against France and Italy last month.
"A third of the side is playing their first year of All Black rugby and we just need to get our feet under the table and get comfortable with that group of people," he said.
Then his attention will turn to the 2011 World Cup to be hosted by New Zealand for the first time since the inaugural event in 1987 — the only World Cup the All Blacks have won.
"Once this Tri-Nations is over we need to be thinking quite a bit about that," he said. "Your thought process looks forward to two years’ time."
Despite the World Cup disappointment, Henry’s overall record has been impressive.
Henry, a former coach for Wales and the British and Irish Lions, has guided the All Blacks to 57 wins from 66 Tests since taking control in 2004.
During that time, the All Blacks have won the Tri-Nations series against South Africa and Australia four times, achieved a clean-sweep of the British and Irish Lions in 2005 and won two Grand Slams during European tours in 2005 and 2008.