Umaga accepts three-year deal to coach ailing Blues

CHALLENGES::The former All Blacks captain is to take charge of the three-time Super Rugby champions, who last season finished second to last under John Kirwan


Wed, Jun 24, 2015 - Page 19

Former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga was yesterday confirmed as the new coach of three-time Super Rugby champions the Auckland Blues and has been tasked with resurrecting the team’s fortunes.

Umaga signed a three-year deal and replaces another All Blacks great, John Kirwan, who resigned on Friday last week after leading the side to just 16 wins from 48 games over three seasons.

Despite having a squad perennially packed with All Blacks, the Blues last reached the playoffs in 2011, when they lost to the Queensland Reds in the semi-finals, and have not finished better than 10th since.

“I am excited at the opportunity and of course understand there’s a big challenge ahead for us all,” the dreadlocked 42-year-old said.

“I know there are a lot of very good players signed on and I look forward to working with them,” he said.

“There’s no quick fix to turn things around. It is going to take a lot of very hard work, which will be my focus. I want to let our performances on the field do the talking,” he added.

Umaga won the last of his 74 Test caps in 2005 and got his first taste of coaching in France while still playing at Toulon, where he was the first major signing for the club’s wealthy owner, Mourad Boudjellal.

He led the now European champions into the Top 14, but the club struggled in the top flight, with Boudjellal saying he learned that Umaga was “not yet ready to give up playing — and that he’s not a manager.”

After a brief return to Super Rugby in New Zealand with the Waikato Chiefs, Umaga has been coaching Counties Manukau in the national provincial championship since 2011.

He was in charge when they lifted the storied Ranfurly Shield for the first time by beating Hawke’s Bay in 2013.

This year, he has been working as an assistant coach with New Zealand’s “Baby Blacks” team, who won the under-20 World Cup last weekend.

The Blues, who play most of their home matches at Eden Park, won the first two Super Rugby titles in 1996 and 1997 before earning their third championship by beating the Canterbury Crusaders in the 2003 final.

However, last season they finished second to last in the 15-team league, with just three wins in 16 matches.

“The board of the Blues ... are thrilled Tana has accepted what we believe is both a hugely exciting opportunity and a massive challenge,” chairman Tony Carter said. “We understand our fans and sponsors, along with everyone on and off the field in this club, are not satisfied with our results.”