Former All Blacks winger John Kirwan has been named as the new coach of the struggling Auckland Blues Super Rugby franchise, the team said yesterday.
The 47-year-old Kirwan, who also coached the Italy and Japan national teams, replaces Pat Lam, who spent four years in charge of the team in New Zealand’s largest city.
The New Zealand Rugby Union had opened the job up for applications as the Blues lurched through a terrible Super Rugby season to miss the playoffs and finish 12th in the 15-team southern hemisphere’s provincial competition.
“This is an exciting time. I am honored to be given the opportunity to lead the Blues next season in what I hope will be a new era of success and innovation,” Kirwan said in a statement. “I’m also thrilled about coming back to New Zealand and home to Auckland after several years overseas.”
The Blues struggled with injuries and form this season, with Lam forced to field a number of up-and-coming players toward the end of the campaign.
Lam reapplied for the job and had his interview last week, delaying his arrival in Australia ahead of the Brumbies match.
Kirwan, who played 142 games for the Auckland provincial side before he went to rugby league in the twilight of his career, was an assistant coach for the Blues in 2001 before he went overseas and coached Italy from 2002 to 2005.
He was credited with laying the foundation for former Springboks coach Nick Mallett to build on and turn Italy into a more consistent international side.
Kirwan then coached the Japan team from 2007 to last year, and guided them to their first Pacific Nations Cup title.
Kirwan was an apprentice butcher when he was plucked from the third division of Auckland club rugby by then provincial coach John Hart and he made his international debut in 1984.
He was rated one of the players of the tournament at the 1987 World Cup and remembered for scoring a brilliant individual try against Italy in the opening game, then making a crunching cover tackle in the corner during the All Blacks’ semi-final victory over Wales.
He also scored one of the All Blacks’ three tries in their 29-9 victory over France in the final.
Kirwan received a knighthood from the New Zealand government earlier this year for his services to sport and mental health, after he spoke out about battling depression all of his life.