If anyone knows the myriad of challenges facing Auckland rugby, surely it is Sir Graham Henry.

The 71-year-old has seen it all in coaching. The four titles (1993-1996) Henry secured with Auckland seems an age ago. It was certainly a different era, back when influential All Blacks, the likes of Zinzan Brooke and Sean Fitzpatrick, regularly roamed the provincial fields.

It is some 15 years since Henry's last involvement at this level as a technical advisor to Wayne Pivac and Grant Fox after returning from Wales in 2003; the same year he helped the Blues capture the last of their titles, too.

"It was the only time in my coaching career where I hadn't been head coach and it was a really great experience and I did the same with the Blues," Henry told the Herald from his Waiheke home. "I've got some fond memories of that."


Clearly, much has changed – and not for the better – in regards to the blue and white hoops.

Now Ted is back in a similar capacity, and hopeful of helping turnaround Auckland; this once powerhouse province he still holds close to his heart.

There was no hesitation when Alama Ieremia, ahead of his first season at the helm, shoulder tapped Henry to join his new coaching team alongside successful Saint Kentigern College first XV mentor Tai Lavea.

Ieremia and Henry formed a relationship when the latter was Hurricanes backs coach and the former led the All Blacks.

Henry has since watched Auckland crumble – fortunate last season to avoid relegation from the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership after three wins from 10 matches.

Asked to lend a hand and restore some pride this year, he could not say no.

"Obviously a lot of people are disappointed with what's been going on in Auckland rugby in recent times. It's easy to be critical from outside so it's an opportunity to try help in some small way.

"I go back a bit in Auckland rugby and I've always respected that opportunity. I want Auckland rugby to do well so I'm going to try and help from within.

"My biggest motivation is I want to try and help Auckland rugby and the greater region improve. Improvement is needed. It's been going backwards for a while and that trend needs to be reversed."

From losing players to talent identification, poor results and a problematic culture that is perceived to not respect or embrace the jersey, Auckland rugby reached its nadir last year.

Henry's last coaching involvement came as a consultant to Leo Cullen and Girvan Dempsey with Leinster in 2016 – the Irish club top qualifiers in the European Cup this season.

This time, Henry's brief will be to mentor Ieremia, Lavea and a yet-to-be-added forwards coach, as well as assuming responsibility for the team's defence.

Outside those duties he is sure to make suggestions about how to tackle some of the endemic issues facing New Zealand's largest talent base.

"There's a wide cross-section of things you need to consider. At the basic level the coaches need to coach well and to develop a great culture with the players they've got so they enjoy playing the game, and enjoy playing for Auckland.

"If they do that, they'll play a better brand of rugby. That has to happen, and there's other things around the game in Auckland that will need to be looked at and improved. Talent ID is one of those."

On that front, Henry appears enthused about the inclusion of Lavea, who won five 1A titles in seven years, and a national 1st XV title in 2012.

"He knows all the young kids coming through and I think he is respected by them, both as a person and for his rugby knowledge. He's a very important appointment and I'm looking forward to working with him."

While better since Tana Umaga's arrival, the Blues and Auckland have not enjoyed a healthy relationship. Henry is firmly of the belief the two organisations must be closely aligned to extract the best from each other long term.

"The Blues and Auckland go hand and glove. It's both those sides working together with Northland and North Harbour to produce something that everybody is really proud of. There's a lot of work to be done to ensure that happens. Maybe from the inside you can help in some small way create that. I'm hoping that can be done over a period of time."

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