Recruitment pressure adding to Blues' troubles
Sir John Kirwan is set to assume a more hands-on role next season as concerns grow about the Blues' struggles to recruit quality coaches.
The under-pressure franchise faced a battle to replace the high-profile departures of World Cup-winning mentor Sir Graham Henry and All Blacks skills coach Mick Byrne. Those challenges now appear magnified.
Sunday News understands the Blues first shoulder tapped former All Blacks Tana Umaga, then Leon MacDonald to fill the backs role, only to be knocked back by both.
Counties Manukau coach Umaga is eyeing a possible position with the Singapore-based Super Rugby team, should they gain inclusion in 2016, and wasn't interested in an assistant role. MacDonald, the respected Tasman and New Zealand under-20s assistant coach, also declined.
“I'm never going to comment on people who may or may not have applied,” Blues chief executive Michael Redman said. “People should have confidentially in these processes so I'm not going to speculate.”
The rejections from Umaga and MacDonald highlight the Blues' challenges to attract preferred candidates.
Former Hawke's Bay and Newcastle coach Peter Russell was also interviewed, but Kirwan is instead expected to adopt the overall backs and attack brief and bring in a yet-to-be-announced skills advisor from abroad.
Redman, however, rejected suggestions that problems recruiting coaches had caused tweaking of original plans.
“No, it hasn't been more challenging,” he said. “It's a complex jigsaw we're putting together. We've put the first piece together and we're finalising the details. It's important to get that right.
“There's been no change of emphasis in that we're looking for a dedicated backs role. The only subtle change is we've identified more of a skills focus than previous, so that's where we are putting our emphasis.”
Revelations that former Highlanders coach Glenn Moore - last week appointed to oversee the Blues forward pack for the next two years - recently missed out on the North Harbour head coach post to Steve Jackson, who also interviewed for the Blues forwards role, only enhances concerns.
Despite being described by one person on the Harbour interview panel as the worst of their three candidates, the Blues opted for Moore over Jackson and Northland coach Derren Witcombe.
The Blues did not consult Harbour, a provincial partner of the franchise, about Moore's application. Redman also denied it was a poor look for the Blues to select someone that wasn't wanted by a battling provincial team, which, before this season, had won eight of their last 42 games.
“I don't know what North Harbour were looking for in the role they advertised,” Redman said. “I know what we were looking for. The panel clearly identified Glenn as being a very strong fit for us.
“I don't think it's relevant to be comparing any other roles or applications.
“Glenn applied, went through a short listing and interview process. He was reference checked by some of the most senior rugby people in New Zealand and came out with glowing support. We're really excited to have him as part of the team.”
In three years (2008-10) at the helm of the Highlanders, Moore won 10 from 39 games - a 25 percent record. He will also make the return to Super Rugby after leading Heartland side Mid Canterbury for the past two seasons.
“If you're in a managerial position they're all difficult jobs and they're all stressful,” Moore said. “You've got to be up for that. For me every experience is about learning and making you better. I believe today I'll be a better coach than I was two or three years ago.
“I've been at this level before. I've been a specialist defence, assistant and head coach at this level. I have a real passion for being at this level. Going back and helping out at Mid Canterbury was a good experience for me. I grew up there. Last year was a really rewarding year. They were a great bunch of guys to work with.”
The Blues are expected to boast a six-person management team next year. Grant Doorey will oversee defence and exit plays; Nick White retains his scrum focus and Isa Nacewa continues in a mental skills capacity.
Blues 2015 management team:
Sir John Kirwan (backs, attack)
Glenn Moore (forwards)
Grant Doorey (defence, exits)
Skills coach (appointment from overseas)
Nick White (scrum)
Isa Nacewa (mental skills)