'I think it's brave' - Henry influence being felt by Heaslip and Leinster

The Ireland number eight has been learning about leaving a legacy.

HAVING READ JAMES Kerr’s excellent book Legacy during this year’s Six Nations, Jamie Heaslip was intrigued when he heard Graham Henry would be flying in for a short-term stint with Leinster.

Graham Henry Henry is with Leinster for today's friendly against Ulster. Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

Henry’s CV alone is enough to pique any player’s interest, of course, but Heaslip immediately looked forward to finding out how some of the ideas Henry shared in Kerr’s book would translate into Leinster’s environment.

“So far, so good,” is Heaslip’s verdict of Henry’s impact.

The 70-year-old began working with Leinster’s staff months before arriving in Ireland and it’s anticipated that he will continue to do so after leaving. Tomorrow is scheduled to be his last day with the province, allowing him to be involved in a review of today’s pre-season friendly against Ulster.

For the past few weeks, the former All Blacks head coach has been part of the furniture at Leinster’s UCD headquarters. Henry has had his own desk on the management floor of the facility, while his wife Raewyn arrived in Ireland last weekend and met a number of the province’s players.

Heaslip is highly positive about Leinster having had a resource like Henry in the set-up.

“He’s coming from one of the most successful teams ever, so it’s silly not to talk to him about it,” says the number eight. “I had just happened to have read Legacy. It’s interesting to have read that and then hear him talk, because obviously he was involved when that book was done.

“It’s knitting a lot of those things together, which is cool and also interesting from all sorts of angles – culture, leadership, how you approach playing, how you coach, how you teach, how you pass things onto players and empower them.

“It’s always good to hear from outside sources, be it in rugby or not.”

Aer Lingus College Football Classic Honourary Chairmen Announced Three high school American Football games will be played in Donnybrook Stadium next month, with proceeds going to Special Olympics Ireland. Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

Leinster’s announcement of the Graham signing included quotes from head coach Leo Cullen indicating that he had initiated the process. Cullen pointed to a desire to challenge himself and his inexperienced coaching team of Girvan Dempsey, John Fogarty and Kurt McQuilkin.

With new Bath head coach Tabai Matson having recently indicated that he spoke to Leinster about a possible move to Ireland, it would be easy for Cullen and co. to feel somewhat edgy in their positions.

However, Heaslip believes that Cullen’s acceptance of a learning opportunity such that offered by Henry’s visit is a sign of strength.

“I think it’s brave, I think it’s brave,” says Heaslip. “They’re a young coaching staff. I slag Kurt and say he probably brings up the age up a little bit, but they’re a young staff.

“When you walk up to where the backroom staff are [in UCD], right across the academy and through to Leo, in coaching terms they are young.

“They have way more experience across the board in terms of playing at the top levels and it looks like Leo is approaching it as he did when he was a player. ‘How do we get better? How do we improve ourselves?’ I think it was a very brave thing to do, from Leo and the coaching staff. I think they’re benefiting from it from now.”

Last week, Henry spoke to the media and touched on Leinster’s attacking mindset and ability to identify try-scoring opportunities. There was a focus on the catch-pass in Henry’s verdict on the province too.

The words are likely to have been music to many Leinster fans’ ears, after the disappointing attacking performances of recent seasons.

Graham Henry and Leo Cullen Henry is lending his expertise to Cullen. Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

Heaslip doesn’t quite agree with the suggestion that the skill level of the squad has dropped, but he is experienced enough to understand that the basics of rugby are the foundation for everything.

“We have a talented group of players,” says Heaslip. “We have a talented group of coaches and we’re in a pretty special organisation as far as clubs around the world go. Maybe it is just the fine margins that need to be tweaked.

“I don’t think the skill level has dropped but maybe sometimes you need someone from the outside to jolt you back in. Last year was a tough year for everyone involved, in terms of half the squad being gone until October [for the World Cup].

“Then they disappeared again for the Six Nations. Look, that’s a good thing because you want guys to go and bring that back, but it’s a tough period for the coaching staff and maybe they had to focus more on the bigger stuff.

“I think everyone is listening intently to Graham. Focusing on the detail of stuff is important. Be that the basic skill, knowing our shape, your basics around tackling, even how to lift properly in a lineout.

“Focusing on the little details and instilling really good habits as you go up that ladder is pretty important. Once the heat comes on, you go back to what you know and if you’ve instilled those habits, that’s what you’ll do.”

On a personal level, Heaslip feels refreshed after his summer break – 10 days off training is about as good as it gets these days – and says he is motivated by many of the ideas that Henry preaches.

The idea of leaving a legacy in Leinster is at the forefront of his mind.

Jamie Heaslip Heaslip wants to leave a legacy at Leinster. Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

“Every team is obviously different in terms of their culture and rituals, like the book [Legacy] talks about. But any team that has history, like it’s hard not to say Leinster is steeped in history. I think the spine of that idea of a legacy, of trying to leave something in a better place than when you picked it up, that identity, is pretty important.

“Culture and leadership is not as tangible as coaching drills, say. But it’s just as powerful, if not more, in terms of continuing success.

“I play to win but at this stage of my career that’s not the only objective. I’m all about winning but at the same time I’m past setting yearly goals now. I’m past that.

“I’m more about ‘How do we create our legacy in this club? How do I make it that some kid who comes across rugby dreams of playing for Leinster? How do I leave the jersey in a better place than I picked it up in 2005?’

“That’s maybe a bit loftier and a bit more intangible, but it means you’re always chasing it.”

- This article was updated at 12.21 on 13 August to correctly identify James Kerr as the author of Legacy. The previous version incorrectly stated his name as Mark Kerr.

Jamie Heaslip is an Honourary Chairmen for the three high school American Football games that will be played in Donnybrook Stadium on Friday 2 September. The games will mark the opening of the Aer Lingus College Football Classic and will see all proceeds going to Special Olympics Ireland. For more information and tickets go to

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