How the Black Ferns changed Sir Graham Henry - 'I’m so grateful'

Passionate, ridiculous, resilient, out of this world, special, spontaneous, unbelievable, tenacious, determined, marvellous.

Those are just some of the words Sir Graham Henry used to describe the Black Ferns when we sat down to reflect on their World Cup campaign.

It was three days after that win.

And it could not have been clearer how much they’ve affected the man who was brought on by Wayne Smith to help mentor and assist the team when tasked with what then seemed impossible.

So much so that the night before, he says he wasn’t able to sleep.

“The Black Ferns were in my head, and I couldn’t get them out of my head, they’ve ruined my life!” he told 1News with that trademark chuckle.

"I had to send a little text to them all… I finished up a long text telling them how much I respected them… I just needed to get it out of my system."

This is a man who has coached for 50 years, at every level, on every stage.

Sir Graham Henry looks on at a Black Ferns training.

The man who led the All Blacks to victory at Eden Park in 2011, breaking a 24-year men’s World Cup drought.

The man who’s retired from rugby coaching now but bristles at it being brought up, because it shouldn’t be about him, it should be about them.

The Black Ferns.

"I’m so grateful to have that opportunity, and I didn’t realise what a huge buzz this was going to be," he says.

"45,000 at Eden Park… Nobody ever thought that was possible, and they loved it! People were asked to leave at the end of the game, they didn’t want to leave the stadium."

Sir Graham Henry and Wayne Smith pose after winning the Rugby World Cup.

He’ll admit it’s been a learning experience.

He went in thinking the team might have a lack of resilience that could be their weakness but left realising they’d always had it in spades.

"They’ve had to build their own teams some of them.

"In their own community, they built their own teams! Men don’t do that.

"So they’ve gone through difficult times, they’ve overcome those difficult times by being determined and not giving up and that reflects in how they play they game."

Looking forward he recognises this moment has to be used to secure the future of the women’s game.

Sir Graham Henry looks on at a Black Ferns training.

He says at the moment it’s being "underplayed" and would like to see more international fixtures, a bigger and better Super Rugby Aupiki, and the Pacific Islands being more involved.

But on the same hand, he warns not to "overplay" it.

"The girls need to be able to do other things I think.

"That’s why they’ve got so much passion, part of why they’re so well balanced, part of why the country loved them – because they loved the game and the people can see they love the game, and they love them!"

He sums it up with one fitting word.


Watch an extended cut of Kimberlee Downs' interview with Sir Graham Henry about the Black Ferns, retirement and rugby below.