Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Whetton ready to tackle Blues' problems head-on

Gary Whetton. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Gary Whetton. Photo / Herald on Sunday

When Gary Whetton became All Black captain he headed into controversy - a similar scenario faces him as the new Blues chairman.

While the All Blacks were successful when Whetton replaced Wayne Shelford in 1990, two decades on the Blues are floundering.

They are in a deep hole after one win in nine games this year and there is a growing acceptance they are battling off the track as well.

The issues are multi-layered but the 52-year-old Whetton, who was elected Blues chairman last month when Greg Muir resigned, is bullish about tackling them.

Bullish without wanting to wash any of the franchise's dirty laundry in public. He wants to work away behind the scenes to create and encourage the changes the Blues need.

Whetton accepts the rugby public might not care so much about balancing the books but says that has to be one of the Blues' priorities.That will occur if the Blues repair their form.

When the squad were picked last year, there were widespread predictions they would compete strongly, Whetton said, but injuries and other issues had conspired against them.

"It has come slamming down on us for a range of reasons," he said. "We have got to finish the competition and win some games, if not all of them, and build some momentum. Things have to change before the end of the year, we can't just react then." The Blues board and executive team were looking at strategies for next season.

But they faced unknowns about players' and coaches' contracts, performance reviews on staff and the franchise.

Whetton refused to join any conjecture about coach Pat Lam's future other than to say he would have a performance review like everyone else.

"What I will say is that I am determined to challenge and push people while I am in this role," Whetton said. "That is why I am here. It may annoy people but so be it, things need to change and in a short time."

The Blues needed to recruit hard-nosed young players, he said, although there were always restraints imposed by contracts and budgets.

Whetton and the board were mulling over all sorts of ideas about how to revive the Blues.

What were they? Perhaps an executive coaching director like the Reds have instituted, an advisory group of "rugby brains", more specialists, a change of training ground, buying the franchise rights?

He raised interested eyebrows but gave no hint about any plans other than to give the Blues more resources in 2013. Specifics were minimal.

"It's a hard one to answer," Whetton said, "but there will be changes, a lot more checks and balances than there have been.

"If we were having this conversation at the same time next year I would like to be saying; 'aren't the Blues showing a lot of metal'."

The Blues could not make instant alterations but they could make statements and work towards change.

"We are going to make some changes and we are going to be different. We have not seen that yet. I can't talk about that in public until this season is over. We have seven games left."

Whetton was elected to the Auckland board eight years ago, and replaced Ken Baguley three years ago on the Blues panel.

His mandate was to deliver for the Auckland, North Harbour and Northland shareholders. "As chairman, I have my eyes wide open. I have seen the dramas and it will be a tough road ahead."

- NZ Herald

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