27 May 2013

Glimpses of the Religious Perspective of Sir Graham Henry

by Dr Mark Keown

I have just read Sir Graham Henry’s book, Final Word. It is a biography of his life to the end of the RWC in 2011. It means a lot to me this book, as I gave it to my dad a year or so ago, and have inherited it now that he has died. It is a good read too. I especially liked the analysis of the 2007 quarter-final loss to France – something sure stinks about that result. We will never know the true story I suspect.

What really interested me as a theologian, were the religious notes through the book. They give insight into the respect that Sir Graham has for people of Christian faith and a little insight into his own view. I found them intriguing and would love to have the opportunity to ask him why he included them.

The first is found on p. 96 where Henry tells of the conversion of Jason Robinson, a member of his 2001 Lions. He speaks of how Inga Tuigamala approached Robinson about a dream he had had about him, and this led to Robinson becoming a born again Christian and transforming his life. Later in the book he refers to Brad Thorn who “now embraced religion, although his team-mates would never have known that” (p. 244). These two references give a sense of great respect for such people. Such respect for people’s religion perhaps gives insight into why he was so successful as a coach.

Equally interesting is the story of his visit to St David’s Cathedral in his first year as Wales’ coach in 1998. After coaching the Welsh to losses to South Africa, Scotland, and Ireland, and a win over France, Wales faced England at Wembley. Ten days before the game, he and his wife Raewyn were at St David’s and visited the Cathedral. Secretly Graham bowed before St David and asked for his help to win the game. With ten minutes left, Wales were six down and Graham prayed to St David: “[w]ell St David, if you’re going to come through, now’s the time.” Within thirty seconds Wales had a penalty, won the subsequent lineout and their second five Scott Gibbs scored a brilliant try which was converted and Wales won by a point (pp. 69–70). Because of this event, during the 1999 world cup his team set it up so that Graham could fly by helicopter back to St David’s to pray again before they faced Australia in the Quarter Final in Cardiff. This he did, however, they lost. He says in the book, “I was hoping for a miracle, which didn’t eventuate” (p.75).

I found these references to faith intriguing and give an interesting insight into the religious worldview of one of NZ’s greatest rugby coaches.

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