Come one, come all. It won’t cost you a thing.
Auckland Rugby will open the gates of Eden Park for next weekend’s Mitre 10 Cup final and allow spectators in completely free of charge. Head coach Alama Ieremia believes it’s the least they can do.
“It’s a great initiative for the whole city, not only the stakeholders but Auckland as a whole, our family, friends and supporters. It’s been a tough last few years, and has been very difficult for Auckland supporters,” Ieremia said after Saturday’s emphatic 38-17 semi-final victory over Wellington.
“I believe the way the team has performed and, most importantly the way the organisation has shown we can let everyone come in free, is a really a big thank-you to all supporters through the tough times. Now we’re in the final, their loyalty deserves to be rewarded.”
Auckland are chasing their first title since 2007, hoping to cap a remarkable season where they finished with a record of nine wins and one loss. It has been an incredible turnaround for a side on the brink of relegation just one year ago.
“What we’ve achieved to date and what this team has done for Auckland is something we need treasure and celebrate tonight,” Ieremia added.
“We’ve got a seven-day turnaround, and we’ll do it well. But this achievement is massive for this team, and we’ve got to enjoy it and then get well grounded. We’ve got no problem with grounding, we’ve been doing it all year because they’re hungry for more. This week will look after itself.”
Ieremia – a former All Blacks midfielder – is in his first year with Auckland and knew it was a large undertaking.
“I did a lot of research into why I was taking this job on,” he said. “This [success] is a by-product of a lot of people advising me to look at certain things in this team.
“I’ve brought in a bunch of players who want to die for this jersey, giving it a purpose, making sure we get the selection right, and understanding there are ramifications and expectations off the field that go with that.
“But most importantly that we’re going to enjoy the season, win or lose, and you will be held accountable for whatever actions you do, good or bad. That’s been our philosophy to date and I see no reason why we can’t keep that on.”
Powerful loose forward Akira Ioane, who starred in the semi-final and scored two tries after being omitted from Steve Hansen’s 51-man All Blacks squad, elaborated on how Ieremia has turned the Auckland programme around this season.
“Alama and [forwards coach] Filo Tiatia came in and set the rules – black and white, and that’s it. If late you’re late, if you’re not dressed in the right stuff you get shot … or at least told off. They’ve set the rules from the start, and the boys know that.
“It’s just little shifts, but there are no more passengers, everyone is working hard all week and giving us what we need.”
Next weekend’s final will kick off at 4.05pm at Eden Park.
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