Chiefs' Super Rugby-winning four to part ways

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 27/07/2014
Wayne Smith
Photosport
FUTURE UNCLEAR: Chiefs assistant coach Wayne Smith.

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Whatever happens, the breakup of the Chiefs' coaching quartet seems imminent.

Dave Rennie, Wayne Smith, Tom Coventry and Andrew Strawbridge have laid the foundations around local connections and Maori culture to rebuild the franchise over the past three years. Last week's first-round finals exit in Canberra did not meet expectations, but the preceding two years delivered the Chiefs' first titles and set standards previously out of reach.

The four-strong coaching setup led that transformation from the top down. Now, though, the brains trust is under genuine threat.

Smith is weighing up whether to remain with the Chiefs or join the All Blacks next season. The Sunday Star-Times understands his decision will be based almost purely around his Putaruru-based family.

Smith's 84-year-old father is dealing with serious health issues and he is dedicated to assisting his mother, sister and brother-in-law in any way he can. He will favour the role that allows him to continue in that support capacity next year.

After being involved in over 120 tests as coach alone, on a personal level Smith has little to gain by re-joining the All Blacks, having been a key member of the 2011 World Cup success.

But a close relationship with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and strong affinity for the national team will see him give the offer serious consideration over the next six months.

Dubbed the "professor", Smith has been aggressively courted by England and Italy in recent times for his extensive expertise and experience but he sees his future mainly in New Zealand rugby. If he decides to link with the All Blacks, it won't be until next year, and a return to the Chiefs in 2016 would not surprise.

"He has not yet made up his mind what he wants to do next year, and we respect that," New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said. "There will be a number of people that will have a view about where he is best placed going forward, but his view matters the most."

Rennie, the Chiefs' head honcho, and Coventry, forwards guru, both enter the final year of their contracts next season.

Behind the scenes the Chiefs are working hard to retain Rennie's services.

While a contract extension would be a mere formality, Rennie has previously indicated he will ponder coaching overseas.

Coventry, who will again assist Manu Samoa's World Cup campaign, harbours ambitions of securing a head coach role and, should the top job not be available at the Chiefs in 2016, the former Hawke's Bay mentor may also chase an offshore post, having previously been linked with interest from Edinburgh and Newcastle.

Hansen's future post-World Cup will also come into prominence, and have a large bearing on New Zealand's coaching landscape over the next 12 months.

On current form - one loss in the last two years - Hansen would be hard to replace, but history suggests the World Cup outcome will carry significant weighting.

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Planning for a replacement, or reappointment, would start later this year.

"At that stage we will canvas a number of people about their potential interest in the role, which would include Steve," Tew said.

"Logic would suggest we have a coach who has been highly successful, not only as head coach but also as assistant. That, no doubt, would come into anyone's consideration but the board will ultimately decide.

"I don't want to put any pressure on Steve or anybody else at this point. Our job will be to make sure we've got some options. We've always worked very hard to make sure regardless of the outcome of one particular tournament we've got some coaching options in-front of us."

Rennie and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder are the leading local candidates, should Hansen opt to step aside. Tew said the current policy, which excludes overseas coaches - the likes of Warren Gatland, Robbie Deans, Vern Cotter and Joe Schmidt - would be reviewed.

"We will go back and allow the current board to check that is still their thinking. It's held us in good stead to date but we'll give everyone the opportunity to rethink whether it still holds sway," he said.

"We don't know whether we're going to be looking for a new coach - and we've also got a very good assistant [Ian Foster] inside the All Blacks right now and some very good coaches with our Super Rugby teams. We're reasonably comfortable we continue to develop coaches. If the international appointments are anything to go by, the rest of the world agrees."

- Sunday Star Times

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