Umaga stays, but his assistant is a surprise
Umaga stays, but his assistant is a surpriseSHARE
In a surprising move, former Crusaders and All Black fullback Leon MacDonald – the current Tasman coach – has been signed as a Blues assistant coach for next season.
Equally surprising is that current head coach Tana Umaga received a 12-month contract extension.
"I'm extremely motivated to help with the Blues' vision of being one of New Zealand's most successful Super Rugby teams," MacDonald said.
"I have coached with Tana – with the New Zealand Under-20 team – and I have a great deal of respect for him as a head coach.
"From what I have seen there is a strong culture and the facilities for players and coaches at the Blues is outstanding."
Blues CEO Michael Redman said while the Board is not satisfied with current performances, it does not believe the answer is to change the head coach at this time.
"The Board believes there are positive improvements taking place at all levels at the club, and that Tana still has a contribution to make," said Redman.
"Changing the coach now would mean we throw out three years of hard-earned experience and starting again which we believe is the wrong thing to do.
"At the same time, the expected shifts in on-field performance are yet to be achieved and we are examining every aspect of team selection, preparation and support as our fans would expect.
"The players support Tana's plan and we feel we are close to unlocking the true potential of this group. In that respect, we are absolutely thrilled to have attracted a coach of Leon's stature to join the club to help achieve this.
"He has a proven record as a player and as a coach at a high level and we believe his different experiences will help significantly in improved performances from next season."
New Zealand Rugby Union Head of Professional Rugby, Chris Lendrum, said Umaga and MacDonald offer an exciting management package for the Blues.
"Tana is a highly regarded figure, and we believe in his ability to continue to grow and develop as a coach and leader," Lendrum said.
"We are backing him to do this. Leon is an exciting prospect who will add considerable experience and skill to the Blues club, and we expect the two of them together will form a formidable coaching team next year."
Tasman has made the last two NPC Championship finals, before succumbing to Canterbury both times.
MacDonald was an assistant with the title-winning Crusaders team in 2017 before stepping down to due family reasons. He will complete his last season with Tasman this year before moving to Auckland.
Umaga, despite only winning three matches in 11 Rounds as head coach this season, believes that the current plan will pay off in the long-term.
"We are in the results business. Believe me, no-one at the Blues right now is happy with where we are at, but everyone has bought into our plan, believes in it and works so hard every day to perform," he said.
"There are significant parts of every game where we are achieving that, and just a few basic things that let us down and convert those tight games into positive results.
The addition of MacDonald could prove to be fruitful for the Blues, with Umaga having previously worked with him at under-20 level.
"While we will now sit down to plan our coaching roster for next year, I am thrilled to have Leon join us. We really gelled together with the successful under-20 team and he has a fantastic coaching record already. I am sure he is going to bring a lot to this club going forward."
MacDonald played 56 tests for the All Blacks and is a centurion for the Crusaders, before he moved into coaching Tasman.