Mystery still surrounds the player line-up set to take to the stage at Invercargill’s Rugby Park for the Pack the Park event, but it’s safe to say whoever makes the teams will be in good hands.
Former All Blacks coach Sir Graham ‘Ted’ Henry, heavyweight boxing champ Joseph Parker, and former All Black backfielder Israel Dagg have all agreed to be part of the event in support of the Southland Charity Hospital.
Sir Graham Henry – who oversaw the All Blacks’ vindicating win at the 2011 Rugby World Cup – says he’s honoured to be part of the Pack the Park game, which will serve as the curtain-raiser before the Southland Stags take on Taranaki in the Mitre 10 Cup. Blair Vining’s great friend Chris Cairns – not to be confused with the cricketer – will serve as assistant coach to Henry, who will oversee the Blair Vining Invitational XV.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody in New Zealand whose life hasn’t been affected by cancer in some way. I think what made people really get behind the Vining family is how, in a time when a lot of people would have quite understandably been afraid or angry at their situation, they used their voices to bring attention to the disparities in our health system. I think that’s an incredibly admirable thing,
” Henry says. “I’m really happy to get on board and see some of New Zealand’s great rugby players take to the paddock in support of such a worthy cause. I know the Southland and Otago crowds are huge rugby fans and I’m sure we’re all in for a fantastic day.”
But if that wasn’t enough, the coaching line-up also includes celebrated Kiwi boxer Joseph Parker and former All Black and Crusaders star Israel Dagg, who will helm the ITM Invitational XV.
“I think it takes a really special person to show the kind of tenacity Blair Vining had, when they’re going through something so devastating. He spent his last time here trying to make life better for the people of Otago and Southland. I really admired that, like a lot of Kiwis did, and I’m really pleased that I can be a small part of the Pack the Park game. It’s not only about saying thanks to the community for getting behind the Southland Charity Hospital, but to help make sure Blair’s fight carries on,” Parker says.
“I also felt a bit bad for Matt Watson, our team captain, as he’s a bit on the small side. Hopefully having me on the bench gives him a bit of a confidence boost. It might make some of the players in the other team think twice about targeting him too, if they know his water boy can be his bodyguard as well.”
“What a privilege and an honour to be a part of this great cause. Not going to lie – when I was asked if I was available to play rugby, I laughed and said ‘are you serious’, but then I saw the team sheet and had a wee giggle to myself, saying if these boys can do it then anyone can,” Dagg says. “I said yes – but as coach. In all seriousness, what the team are doing for cancer patients really hits home for me. Let’s Pack the Park and have a great evening whanau – I’m looking forward to seeing everybody there.”
Blair Vining’s widow, and Southland Charity Hospital board member, Melissa Vining says the coaching team line-up is “like a dream”.
“I am definitely running out of superlatives and words to express how blown away I am by how many people are willing to support the Southland Charity Hospital and our Pack the Park event. I couldn’t believe it when I heard Sir Graham Henry, Joseph Parker and Izzy Dagg were prepared to get involved. To have even caught the interest of one of them, let alone the three of them, is just crazy to me,” she says.
“Amazed, overwhelmed, humbled: it means so much to the whole charity hospital team that so many people are willing to get on board with Pack the Park, to say thanks to the people of Southland and Otago for their support of our cause. It’s an incredible way to commemorate Blair too. It means so much to Della-May, Lilly and I that his efforts to make things fairer for his community has had such a lasting impact on people,” she says.
“And I know Blair would be absolutely stoked that people like Graham Henry want to get involved in the cause. I’m sure there would be lots of smiles and maybe one or too not-safe-for-work words.”
The Pack the Park game at Rugby Park on October 17 will be followed by gala dinner The Aftermatch at the spectacular Bill Richardson Transport World. Hosted by TW Events & Incentives, the gala dinner will see master of ceremonies, television personality Scotty ‘Sumo’ Stevenson, preside over a sold-out crowd of almost 700 people. The event sold-out mere hours after tickets went on sale.
Rugby Southland has also gotten on board with the event, offering those keen to attend free entry to the terraces. Meanwhile, tickets to the grandstand are expected to go on sale later this week. The Pack the Park event will serve as a curtain-raiser for a Mitre 10 Cup match between the Southland Stags and Taranaki.
To find out more about the Pack the Park event – and to keep up-to-date with player announcements – follow the Southland Charity Hospital on Facebook