Sir Graham Henry will look to mentor Auckland Rugby in 2018

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Sir Graham Henry will look to mentor Auckland Rugby in 2018
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Auckland Technical Advisor Graham Henry watches the game from the Auckland bench during the Air New Zealand NPC Rugby match between Waikato and Auckland played at Waikato Stadium, Saturday. Waikato won the game 2516. (Photo by Dean Purcell/Getty Images)

In a surprising call, which has both admirers and rugby fans wondering ‘why?’ Sir Graham Henry has offered his assistance to the province he lead from 1993-1996. He was named as an assistant coach of the new Auckland Rugby management team, that will hope to return to side to better days.

This is due to the poor result of the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup season, where Auckland posted a measly three victories from ten matches. It placed them at the bottom of the Premiership–so close to being relegated that it embarrassed the union, and led to the departure of the former coach.

Now news of Graham Henry’s return will boost the side’s chances. A mentor, but also taking a hand in the coaching group, Henry will be one of the sides ‘directors’ and a companion for the new coaching group. Not since 2014, when John Kirwan invited Henry to become involved in the Blues ill-fated season, has the World Cup winning coach been active as a coach.

In saying that, his years of rugby intelligence should be a positive, in a recent history of extreme negatives for his former provincial subject.

Sir Graham Henry will look to mentor Auckland Rugby in 2018

Announced in early December 2017, new head coach Alama Ieremia would assume the role vacated by Nick White. He would also assume the head of a province which is not his home union. The former Wellington Lions player will bring his talent north, looking to resurrect the hopes of Auckland Rugby.

Now, with the assistance of Graham Henry and talented secondary schools coach Tai Lavea, the new management group will look to plan for the immediate improvement of the metropolitan side. (A forwards coach is still due to be confirmed) but Ieremia has spoken of his plans.

“From a Head Coach’s point of view, creating a culture and identity that people are proud of is a big rock for the Auckland Mitre 10 Cup team this year. Having Sir Graham with his experience will enhance that for this team.”

The former All Blacks midfielder, and Samoan coach is intent on changing the culture. “Tai has had a lot of success and understands the landscape with the young players coming through. We are aligned with key strategies, especially in the backline. Not only is being a homegrown Auckland coach important but having a history and relationship with young and current players is vital to get the best out of our squad in 2018.”

Adding his credible record, Henry will return to coaching, after appearing to retire from the role. His last contract was as Technical Adviser to Argentina in 2012, and since he has been an in-demand public speaker. So his return to coaching will again see his much respected theory and application used for the good of Auckland Rugby.

Henry’s return good news, after poor Financial results

In the same week that Henry and Lavea were announced as assistant coaches, the board of Auckland Rugby have been hearing about the financial performance of the home ground; Eden Park. And it is dire reading.

Even in a financial year which included three British and Irish Lions tour games played at the park, the final accounts show a net operating profit of almost $5 million. However, the Eden Park Trust Board still incurred a comprehensive deficit of $3.65 million in their annual accounts for the year ended October 2017.

This is due to an artificial depreciation of $8 million dollars, but in as much that the $50 million in debt, which is a noose around the stadium’s throat. With debilitating limitations on the number of nights that the stadium can lease it’s venue, plus the exorbitant overheads that such an stadium requires, it’s future is being questioned.

Graham Henry
General view of Eden Park stadium, Auckland, New Zealand (Photo by Anthony Devlin/PA Images via Getty Images)

What Auckland Rugby needs is a positive outcome. For the union, but also for the home venue. If the current performance of both continues as it did in 2017, then longer term problems might carry on. Add Henry to the coaching team, may be both a huge motivation and … a good business proposition. [More feet through the gates].

Editors Comment – Should Eden Park host Auckland Rugby games?

As a viewer of a couple of matches at Eden Park during last season’s Mitre 10 Cup season, the feeling at the ground is hollow. Even when Auckland had a performance close to reaching the heights of when Sir Graham Henry coached the side, the atmosphere is only a ‘half cup full’.

With one side of the ground seating prohibited, it performs two tasks. (1) for the cameras, the crowd is shown in the main frame shots, and (2) it puts fans in closer contact. That can make for a more engaged fanbase, but when it accounts for only a quarter of the maximum capacity, the costs are prohibitive.

Auckland Rugby can alleviate these unsustainable costs by looking at venues which can be both ‘near to full’ or over-flowing with fans. That might be in using Waitakere Trusts Stadium, or even Western Springs. But in utilizing venues of member clubs like Ponsonby (Western Springs) or Waitakere, the operating costs could be better managed.

And who knows, rotating the host venues across a range of clubs might well create a more sincere atmosphere–combined with a more concentrated coaching group. One who identifies talent, which demonstrates a positive attitude and that the fanbase can be proud to follow.

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The Auckland 2018 Mitre 10 Cup campaign will begin in August. The schedule is still to be confirmed, so watch for news of the lead-up and season proper, with Last Word on Rugby.

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