Grateful Henry sympathises with Johnson's plight

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NZPA     27 Nov 2008     Getty Images

Johnson, the novice manager of England, and Henry were on the same side as captain and coach of the 2001 British and Irish Lions in Australia.

Their paths cross again when England host New Zealand at Twickenham on Sunday morning (NZT), a Test they approach under varying levels of stress.

Johnson's tenure is already under intense scrutiny after England lost to Australia and South Africa, while Henry will always be tied to last year's misadventure at the World Cup, although he senses the shackles have loosened.

As he prepares for the All Blacks' 15th and final international of the season, Henry feels the coaching panel's retention by the New Zealand Rugby Union board has already been justified by the defence of the Philips Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup.

"It's obviously satisfying for us but's it's also good for the people that appointed the three people sitting up here," he said, while flanked by assistants Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen.

"They would have been under pressure," he said of the board which made the decision to retain the incumbents ahead of Robbie Deans, the current Wallabies coach.

"Robbie Deans is a very good rugby coach as everybody knows ... it was a difficult decision for the board. They stuck by us and showed faith in us and it's good to be able to repay that.

"I think they'll be feeling comfortable with their decision now," he said.

Denying Deans any silverware was the primary goal this season, with Henry admitting the trans-Tasman Tests in Sydney, Auckland and Brisbane were the most emotionally draining.

"We felt a lot of pressure during the Philips Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup so to win those was pleasing. It gave us an opportunity to be more comfortable and relaxed, we've enjoyed the tour."

Henry has certainly maintained a relaxed, jovial manner once the Wallabies were put away a third time in Hong Kong in the tour opener although the prospect of emulating the Grand Slam-winning team of 2005 has not diminished his competitive streak -- or that of the players.

"It's important to set goals, create some history and leave a legacy in their time in the jersey. This is an opportunity for this side to do that," he said.

"To play five Tests on five consecutive Saturdays and try to win them all is a major challenge and if we do that it's a fine achievement --- and just as good as winning the Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup."

The All Blacks appear poised to attain their goal given England appear to be in disarray after being well beaten by the Tri Nations also-rans.

The 6-42 loss to the Springboks was especially dire and prompted Johnson to make three changes to his starting 15 yesterday.

Erratic first five-eighth Danny Cipriani has been relegated to the bench for Toby Flood while there were also changes at openside flanker and lock as Johnson seeks to prevent England slumping to an eighth successive loss to the All Blacks.

A win would also enable last year's runners-up to grab a top-tier seeding when the 2011 World Cup draw is made here next Tuesday (NZT).

Aware Johnson's selections and methods are already being picked apart just three games into his reign, Henry sympathised with his former captain, no doubt aware how fickle the coaching profession can be after his chastening experience late last year.

"It'll take some time but he'll be very good. He's got very high standards, he expects high standards from others and they respect him," he said.

Hansen, whose previous two-year tenure with Wales included an 11-match losing streak, also had words of encouragement for Johnson.

"He's clearly got a plan, you can see they're starting to look at doing something different."

Hansen said England were endeavouring to play more expansively, a change in mindset influenced by the experimental law variations.

"They've had to change the way they play they game and that won't happen overnight."

Henry said the reselection of his best available team for the Test was a formality.

Conrad Smith returns at centre for Richard Kahui in the only change from the team who overpowered Wales 29-9 in Cardiff last weekend.

"I obviously feel for Richard Kahui," Henry said.

"He played very well against Wales but in saying that Conrad has been the number one centre coming over here and he hasn't done anything to change that."