The men in charge
December 31, 2009
Graham Henry responds to calls of 'CHUG, CHUG' in 2008 © Getty Images
As the decade draws to a close, Scrum Sevens offers our selection of the coaches that defined international and domestic rugby since the turn of the Millennium.
There has been plenty of triumph and tragedy, with the small matters of the World Cup, Tri-Nations, Six Nations, Heineken Cup and Super 14 titles all featuring heavily.
Graham Henry - New Zealand
Arguably the most controversial coach of the decade, Henry's refusal to fall on his sword following New Zealand's quarter-final capitulation at the 2007 Rugby World Cup caused uproar before the perma-scowling former schoolteacher turned the ship around spectacularly in 2008.
Henry began the decade in charge of world rugby's other little big men, Wales, but an acrimonious split left little hint as to the success that would follow. His first season in charge was even less convincing as the All Blacks propped up the 2004 Tri-Nations table, but a rollicking series win over the 2005 Lions and southern hemisphere domination in 2005, 2006 and 2007 put the All Blacks on top heading into the World Cup. His side's failure in Cardiff was one of the defining moments of the last ten years, a low so deep that it still prickles Kiwis to utter the words "Wayne Barnes".
Still, the ultra-competitive Henry was re-appointed and brought back the 2008 Tri-Nations and a second Grand Slam tour in four years. The All Blacks also finished the decade on top of the IRB World Rankings. Count them out at your peril in 2011.
Clive Woodward - England
Love him or loathe him, rugby's ultimate 'ideas man' ruled the roost at the turn of the decade. Sir Clive masterminded England's ascent to the top of the world in 2003 and heralded a new age in the professional game with his commitment to fitness and conditioning.
England broke the southern hemisphere stranglehold with a conservative yet effective gameplan, all spilling forth from Woodward's faith in one of the all-time great skippers, Martin Johnson, and his metronomic fly-half Jonny Wilkinson.
His reputation was dented by the 2005 Lions tour, where one of the game's great traditions was dragged through the mud under the (mis)guidance of a bloated coaching team including media advisor Alastair Campbell. Now part of the Team GB Olympic effort, few can quibble with his achievements in the England hotseat, though.
Jake White - South Africa
White took South Africa back to the top of the world in 2007 and his side's victory over England at the Stade de France was one borne from patience and a sprinkling of stubbornness. He had tasted success at an U21 World Cup before taking the top job in 2004, when the air was still clouded by the fallout from the 2003 World Cup and Kamp Staaldrad.
The Tri-Nations title came later that year and despite two barren years the Boks were in good shape in 2007 following a Sharks-Bulls Super 14 final. White drew criticism in many quarters for his decision to rest key players for away games in the Tri-Nations but the Boks were a well-oiled machine come the Rugby World Cup. Their group stage win over England was arguably the performance of the tournament and paved the way for a deserved victory. His successor, the enigmatic Peter de Villiers, extended 'the house that Jake built' with Tri-Nations success in 2009 and a series win over the Lions.
Declan Kidney - Ireland & Munster
Softly spoken and unassuming, Kidney's decade is one to marvel at. Two of the great Irish ghosts were laid to rest under his guidance, first with Munster's Heineken Cup victories in 2006 and 2008 and more recently with Ireland's 2009 Grand Slam.
He is steadily building a reputation as a coach who can drag teams across the finish line, ending Munster's barren run in cathartic style before turning Ireland's 2004, 2006 and 2007 Triple Crowns into a clean-sweep in his first season at international level. With the coaching duties for the 2013 Lions up for grabs, he's going to be in there with a shout. Not that he'd breathe a word of the like without a wink and a smile.
Robbie Deans - Crusaders & Australia
Robbie Deans was the biggest loser following the New Zealand Rugby Union's decision to re-appoint Henry and Co, his supreme record at Super Rugby level eventually earning him the role of Australia head coach rather than that of his home country.
Deans coached the Crusaders to five titles post-2000 and was the assistant coach to John Mitchell as New Zealand won the 2002 and 2003 Tri-Nations, paying for their failure at the 2003 Rugby World Cup with his job. Another from the quiet school of the game, Deans cuts a scholarly figure on the touchline and is moulding an Australian side brimming with potential ahead of 2011. If the powers that be keep faith with the former All Black, he could well be in this equivalent list in 2019.
Warren Gatland - Wasps & Wales
As comfortable with a verbal hand-grenade as he is with a rugby ball, the hard-hitting Gatland has been a prominent figure in the northern hemisphere game at club and international level since the turn of the Millennium.
After leaving his post with Ireland, Gatland built a Wasps side that became the ultimate knockout animal, thriving on pressure and claiming top prize in the Premiership and Heineken Cup, where Rob Howley's famous Twickenham try brought a 2004 victory over Toulouse.
In 2007 Gatland returned to the international stage with Wales, winning a Grand Slam after barely three months in charge. Alongside Shaun Edwards he married Wales' attacking pedigree to a granite-like core, with Shane Williams wowing fans the world over on his way to the IRB World Player of the Year award. A coach with the 2009 Lions, along with his entire Wales backroom team, he is at a crossroads as the decade ends. After a string of poor results Wales have lost their flair, and the natives are growing restless.
Ian McGeechan - Wasps & British & Irish Lions
With Wasps McGeechan continued Gatland's good work and won the Heineken Cup in 2007 and the Premiership in 2008, having taken the job after a mixed time with Scotland in the early part of the decade. It was back with the Lions that McGeechan shone however.
In 2005 he was the coach of the unbeaten 'midweek' team in New Zealand, and in 2009, on his fifth tour as coach and seventh in all, he restored faith in the red jersey by getting back to basics in South Africa. His side were narrowly beaten by the brilliant Springboks but the looks on the faces of players and fans alike following the series all pointed to one thing - the Lions were alive and well with Geech at the helm. Sorry, make that Sir Ian.
Honourable mentions go to: Bulls supremo Heyneke Meyer for his 2007 Super 14 triumph, Wales' 2005 Grand Slam coach Mike Ruddock, Italy's Pierre Berbizier for the 2007 Six Nations, Michael Cheika for Leinster's Heineken Cup triumph in 2009, Eddie O'Sullivan for being so near and yet so far with Ireland and Marc Lievremont for sheer bloody-mindedness.
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