Zach Henry making a major impact with Stade Francais in Top14

Zack Henry, the Stade Francais outside half, has faced many personal challenges on his unique journey to the pinnacle of the Top14 in France, defying the odds to establish himself in the toughest league in the world.
Last season, while helping Pau avoid relegation from the French top flight, he was regularly flying back to England to be with his father Adrian, who was battling the dreadful effects of Motor Neurone Disease (MND).
The Brighton born 29-year-old lost his father on Monday,10 October 2022, was told by Pau he could miss the next weekend’s game with Stade Francis but opted to play, kicking seven out of seven. Now, he is wearing the pink No10 of Stade having been offered a three year contract to move from the South West of France to the capital city where he has guided one of the most iconic club’s in world rugby to the top of the Top 14.

Henry, who has been told he is the first player to appear in the Fédérale 1, Pro D2, Top14 and Gallagher Premiership in that order, said: “We were in a relegation battle with Pau and I was flying back and forth to see my Dad. I learnt to deal with the pressure of the relegation fight and no one knows what I went through with my family.

“It means this season, because I have gone through those lows, I can deal with stress on the pitch. I try to find the positives in every situation and bounce back.

“I broke my jaw early in my career and lost my teeth and was told I may not play again then lost my Dad to MND – all of these things I try and learn from. My Dad loved Pau and came out to see me play with my family and I am very blessed he saw a lot of my rugby journey and I am out there for him now.

“I lost Dad on the Monday and played against Stade on the Saturday and hit seven out of seven kicks. We managed to avoid relegation and I was lucky to have an amazing group at Pau who helped me through what was a very tough experience.”

Besides the pressure of wearing the Stade No10 jersey, Henry is also finding time to study for a masters in sports psychology and understanding how he can improve mentally and physically remains a driving force in his busy life in Paris.

“My message is always about positivity and it has never been ‘France is better than England’ in my mind: “he explained. “I just love it in France at all levels; the fans, how passionate they are and the stadiums. I enjoy the adventure of life, speaking French visiting different cities. Maybe, it is because I didn’t go through the traditional route of England age groups and the academy system. My friends back home are not rugby players and so I have always been more of a free spirit.

“On the pitch over here they have really taken to me and in France I am not Zach Henry, I am Zach Henri. There is a lot more freedom and it is true, to an extent, that French rugby is looser but in the Top14 it is pretty structured. However, I have always had more freedom in that structure to play space with either my running, kicking or passing game.

“Coaches here let me have the freedom to make those choices and people trust me to make decisions on the pitch which I love doing. What I love about Stade is the ambition and we turn up at the training ground with all the trophies the club has won in the past and it is made clear every day that the ambition of the club is to be back at the top where it used to be and a force in Europe.

“I started in the Bath Uni fourth team and climbed the ladder in a crazy way and always asked every day ‘how good can it get?’ and if that level is Fed1 or Pro D2 then I just want to be the best version of myself. Now, I am at this level then there is no reason why we cannot win trophies.”

After impressing in France, Leicester brought Henry to England with the outside half or full back making 26 appearances before he headed back to France for the 2020/21 season with Pau. His time under Steve Borthwick at Leicester could be seen from the outside as a poor option, but, typically, Henry views it very differently and credits the current England head coach for helping develop his all round game. “Leicester was the most positive experience possible:” he said. “ People say that Leicester didn’t work out for me but I played 26 games, scored 150 points and Steve Borthwick is one the best coaches around and taught me a whole new style.

“I was in Pro D2 throwing the ball around having fun and Steve taught me what it is to be a No10 at the highest level and I was learning off George Ford and Ben Youngs and had Ellis Genge and Nemani Nadolo around me. Externally it may have looked like I didn’t become Leicester’s starting No10, but I learnt a whole different side of the game which means I can put ambition to one side on a rainy day and create pressure with my kicking.”

Henry’s brother Jake played for Rotherham and a number of English Championship clubs and joins the outside half’s mother and sister visiting him in Paris where he lives living in the same arrondissement as Roland Garros, Parc de Princes and Stade’s Jean-Boudin stadium. “I went to state school until 16 and then got a scholarship to Hurstpierpoint College in Sussex and we played good rugby but I didn’t get picked up by anyone. I went from the Bath Uni fourth’s to the firsts and got picked for the GB students sevens and we won a silver at the World University Sevens.

“I played in an England Students development XV but didn’t make the full team and from that Richard Hill (former England scrum half and captain) was at our training ground as a friend of one of the coaches and asked if I would like an opportunity in France where he was coaching at Rouen.”

Henry, whose Stade side registered a sixth away win of the season at Montpellier at the weekend to keep them three points clear of second placed Toulouse, used to be part of a social media group for the small number of English players in France but that figure has now ballooned with Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi, Billy Vunipola, Lewis Ludlam, Kyle Sinckler and Courtney Lawes amongst the latest to cross the Channel to either play in the Top14 or ProD2.

”It is interesting to see the evolution of English players in French rugby: “ he added.” Joe (Marchant) is loving it here at Stade and we have a really good dynamic at the club. We have Leo Barre at full back who is one of those generational talents for France and does things in training that are absolutely outrageous. Brad Weber is an All Black and thinks this lad is incredible and he ran 9km during our win over Lyon.

“The move to Stade came about because I was playing well at Pau and got a call from the club saying they needed a No10 and it was my dream to play for them. The first professional rugby game I watched was Harlequins against Stade. I Iooked at this team playing in pink jerseys and thought it would be great to play for them.”


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