Hours after the final whistle at Eden Park on Saturday night, Auckland's triumphant players, including prop Sam Prattley, ran, or in some cases, limped, through the torrential rain to their cars.

Their smiles were as wide as the huge puddles forming in the car park despite the fact they were getting soaked to the skin.

Even loosehead Prattley was happy as he shielded a young child from the downpour. Prattley, a huge part of the Auckland pack and therefore their run to the title this year, was knocked out by a head clash after only five minutes of his team's incredible 40-33 extra-time victory over near perennial title-winners Canterbury.

He didn't get to play the part he wanted to, and presumably wasn't allowed to have a beer to celebrate afterwards, but there was no containing his joy and that should apply throughout the rugby province because, this and please excuse the pun, may have been a watershed moment.


How significant this Mitre 10 Cup premiership title victory will be for Auckland, their first since 2007, remains to be seen but, rest assured, head coach Alama Ieremia will already be planning on taking advantage of it.

Ieremia, in the first year of a three-year contract at Auckland, believes this is just the start. In February he will take the team on an overseas tour which will bring them together even tighter as a group and over the next few months he will work on helping non-professional players get the best out of themselves, and better align the schools and clubs in the city, plus the relationship between his organisation and the Blues.

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He should be well placed regarding the latter because he is good friends with Tana Umaga, his former All Black, Hurricanes and Wellington teammate.

The 20,130 who took advantage of Auckland Rugby's bold move to open the Eden Park gates created an atmosphere which hasn't been seen or heard in a long time. Not all of them will be Blues supporters but most probably were and the goodwill created by the free entry and Auckland's incredibly resilient effort in coming back to win from a 7-20 halftime deficit must count for something.

Many of them played a version of musical chairs as they sought shelter from the rain as other sections of the stands opened up throughout the 100 minutes. Few of them will forget the experience and neither will their players, all of whom will be better for it, even the unlucky ones like Prattley and replacement inside back Daniel Kirkpatrick, the only Auckland reserve who didn't get to run on to the pitch until after the final whistle.

Ieremia, who along with Filo Tiatia, Sir Graham Henry, Tai Lavea and Mike Casey have galvanised this group of players into a disciplined, cohesive and polite unit (Ieremia and skipper TJ Faiane shook hands with media at the press conference, as did, it should be noted, Canterbury's skipper Mitchell Drummond), made special mention of Kirkpatrick's role.

From near relegation to worthy champions in 12 months, it has been some turnaround and that has been led by Ieremia who endured so many tough times as a coach at Manu Samoa and before that the Hurricanes.


The respect is back at Auckland, yes, but so is the joy and long may it continue at a place which has become far too used to rugby failures.