Two major twists have developed in the Blues' global coach search.
The Sunday Star-Times can reveal that rejected England candidate Nick Mallett has turned his back on the job, and, incumbent Pat Lam has reapplied for his position.
Applications for the Blues head coach role closed on Friday. A shortlist is expected to be compiled next week, but it could be an all-Kiwi, three-horse race between Lam and former All Blacks Sir John Kirwan and Wayne Shelford.
"After careful consideration, I have decided to fight for my role," Lam told the Star-Times. "Walking away would contradict everything I have told my players about staying united and fighting to the end. I have received support from my players and in my recent trip to Hong Kong."
Japan-based All Black Mils Muliaina, understood to be close to returning to the Blues next year, encouraged Lam to seek reappointment when the pair linked up for a Barbarians match in Hong Kong this month.
Lam has fielded interest from Tonga and turned down a mid-season invitation to interview for the head-coach role at English club Bath. But he appears well in the reckoning to be retained in some capacity and will not look elsewhere until a decision is made at the Blues in July.
It is understood that the Blues, amid their worst campaign in history, approached Mallett, who was overlooked for England's top job in favour of Stuart Lancaster, but the former South Africa and Italy coach declined the offer, stating his desire to return to the international ranks.
"I was actually contacted by the Western Force, then by the Auckland Blues," Mallett told French media. "But I didn't feel like I wanted to become a club coach."
Kirwan is the front-runner to replace Lam but his eight years with Italy and Japan do not present a compelling case. He is also yet to coach in New Zealand. Other prospects, such as highly rated European-based Kiwi coaches Joe Schmidt and Vern Cotter, are unavailable until 2013.
"A lot of guys have got contracts that don't suit," Blues chairman Gary Whetton told the Sunday Star-Times. "There's no doubt about that. But I would be disappointed if there wasn't a lot of worthy candidates. We are interested in all the best coaches around the world. We will know where we stand early next week."
This is Shelford's third attempt to join the Blues. His desire is to unify North Harbour, where he was assistant coach for seven years, and the dominating Auckland union. "Buck" commands mana and respect and has unique appreciation for the grassroots. But he would be a surprise selection given his lack of high-profile head coach experience.
"I don't feel it's working too well in regards to selection, and the development of our players needs to be better as well," Shelford said of the Blues. "We haven't got a long-term view of where we are going and what we're trying to do."
He was open to working with Lam if the latter retained the role.
"Pat might hold the job and there might be other positions become available. If I didn't get that role and they offered me another role, I'd have to look at it."
The Star-Times can also reveal that in a surprise policy reversal, former All Black Jeff Wilson has been upgraded from part-time to fulltime assistant Blues coach for the final three games of the year. Lam has voiced his concerns about the lack of managerial support this season. But until now, last year's defence coach, Liam Barry, had not been replaced because of budget cutbacks.
"I'm pleased the board gave Jeff a fulltime position," Lam said. "It has made a big difference to the workload and you saw that during the Chiefs match. Hopefully you can see further benefits in our last two games."
- Sunday Star Times
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