Mitre 10 Cup: Alama Ieremia credits fallen friend Dylan Mika for Auckland revival

Auckland rugby coach Alama Ieremia has credited a fallen former teammate for much of what has gone right in the province's 2018 resurgence.

The blue-and-white hoops host Canterbury on Saturday afternoon in the Mitre 10 Cup premiership final, after a superb year that saw the once-dominant force of New Zealand rugby win nine of 10 regular season games.

A year removed from near-relegation, Auckland's turnaround has been quite remarkable, but nearly didn't happen, if Ieremia had taken the advice of many.

The former All Black's long-time friend, Dylan Mika, passed away in March, but not before convincing the 47-year-old to come in and fix the spiralling fortunes of Auckland rugby.

"I can only do what I can do," Ieremia told reporters on Tuesday.

"I had a very special friend of mine who convinced me to come in and do this job - he has since passed away.

"Dylan Mika was such a close friend and the funny thing is this was a job so many people told me not to take, and he helped me get the confidence to talk to the right people and galvanise people.

"I certainly believe that what we have done this year has brought some respect back to Auckland and getting our own backyard sorted. I'm sure Dylan is pretty proud of all of this."

Alama Ieremia.
Alama Ieremia. Photo credit: Photosport

Mika's advice saw the former Manu Samoa coach bring in some highly credentialed help to change the culture inside the Auckland team.

Respected former Saint Kentigern College coach Tai Lavea was brought on board, alongside forwards coach Filo Tiatia.

But the most significant recruitment came when Ieremia persuaded Sir Graham Henry to join the fold.

"It was about making sure that we had a defensive attitude and a coach that would bring respect," he said.

"A lot of what this year was about was around character and defence, and who better to bring that than 'Ted'?

"I know he has been out of the game for a while now, but when he speaks around things like attitude, it does make a difference. His role as a mentor and sounding board for me is very important."

Auckland faces an almighty challenge, if they are to complete the fairytale season by toppling the red-and-blacks at Eden Park.

Canterbury has dominated the provincial competition in the last decade, winning nine titles since 2008.

Auckland was the last non-Crusaders region side to claim national honours in 2007 and Ieremia acknowledges they face the ultimate measuring stick this weekend, as they look to repeat that success.

"We are playing a team with a lot of history and a lot of successful history around finals rugby," Ieremia said. "We respect that and we will have to make sure we are on top of our game.

"I use the word 'respect' by saying we are going to be throwing everything at them.

"I have a lot of confidence in what we have done. We are peaking as a team, and I believe we have the firepower and confidence to go in and give it our best shot.

"The boys will give it everything and they will come to play. This will be the hardest game of the year for us and so we need to make sure we do our homework.

"I think they have evolved after the last few weeks and they are timing their run right, which is something we have all seen before.

"Finals rugby with Canterbury and the Crusaders, they just go together side-by-side and we just have to make sure we are completely up to it.

"There is a reason why they were champions for 10-odd years."

Aucklanders' faith in their side's newly found success will be put to the test on Saturday, with free entry to the ground on offer.

Ieremia expects a flood of relocated Cantabrians to take up the offer, but he belives the true-blue Auckland supporters deserve the opportunity to watch a fantastic spectacle.

The former All Black centre put the onus on his squad to repay what he hopes is feverish support.

"It's a fantastic initiative and I think it is well-deserved," Ieremia said. "Auckland supporters deserve a little bit of a thank you around what's happened in the past and being there through the rough times.

"The biggest thing about that is that the pressure really is on now. We have to make sure we get the job done."


Join us at 4pm Saturday for live updates of the Auckland vs Canterbury Mitre 10 Cup premiership final