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September 19, 2011 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

7 The Inning Stretch

Why wear a poker face when the game is rugby?

In a week in which New Zealand rugby fans ‘lost their shyness’ according to All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith, I can’t help but feel there’s still one of us out there yet to come out of his shell.

I’m talking about Graham Henry, who (while the rest of us have been getting loopy for the World Cup) seems to have mastered his poker face. The fun of the moment seems to be getting to every other coach at the World Cup. But our Ted seems to have missed the invite.

Sky Sport have plonked a camera on every coaches box at the Rugby World Cup and we, in the comfort of our own homes, have so far been treated to fist pumping Romanians, kissing Welshmen, and a South African who looks like he’s having a heart attack. And there’s our beloved Ted, a New Zealander who appears to be watching a replay of Antiques Roadshow.

Yes, beating Tonga and Japan is hardly a shock. But Henry’s ice-cool exterior stayed throughout every try, every firework, and every pre-match Jonah Lomu cameo (sure, there’s only been one, but it’s impossible not to crack a smile). Not even the appearance of a half naked Sonny Bill Williams got a reaction out of the All Blacks’ coach, as it seems to have done with half of our population.

I know the guy’s under a lot of pressure. I know it’s not an easy job. And I imagine there are a few rugby-supporting demographics in the more barren areas of our country that might raise an eyebrow at an All Blacks’ coach who wolf-whistled every time his centre pulled his shirt off. Until now, not at all surprisingly, he’s kept his cards very close to his chest.

But there’s nothing unprofessional about a good old fashioned celebration in the coaches’ box. Alex Ferguson treats any Manchester United goal with the excitement of an elderly man who’s just discovered predictive text. South African coach Peter de Villiers prides himself on being perhaps the least conservative man alive. And our very own Ricki Herbert treated us to an awkward jig down the touchline last winter every time the All Whites surprised us all with a goal.

Just as every player should be allowed to celebrate their success with one moment of not-quite-spontaneous-but-not-too-rehearsed madness, so should the coaches. Especially when they’re second in line to take the blame (behind the referee, of course) should they fail.

Everybody has their goals in sport—and we know that Henry’s is to win the Rugby World Cup. I sure as hell hope he has a few special moves lined up should that occasion actually arise come October.

I think the only thing sweeter than seeing Richie McCaw holding up the Webb-Ellis trophy would be Graham Henry doing the robot in the middle of Eden Park. In saying that, I’ll settle for a well rehearsed high-five routine with Wayne Smith.

Come on, Ted. Join the party.


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