Knowler: Blackadder should stay at Crusaders

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 06/07/2013
Todd Blackadder
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ
BLACK AND RED: Todd Blackadder is expected to re-sign with the Crusaders for another season.

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OPINION: Barring a cataclysmic meltdown over the next few weeks the Crusaders coaching staff, headed by Todd Blackadder, are expected to be re-appointed for next year.

Chairman Murray Ellis and chief executive Hamish Riach have remained mute on this subject but Fairfax Media understands the Crusaders are convinced they still have the right men for 2014, and possibly beyond.

Blackadder and his assistants Dave Hewett, Tabai Matson and Aaron Mauger have been offered handshake deals, at least, the New Zealand Rugby Union have been informed and contracts are being prepared.

This is the biggest decision the Crusaders board have had to make since a regional consortium agreed to a new licence arrangement to operate the franchise last December.

Under Blackadder, who replaced Robbie Deans in 2009, the franchise have yet to win a Super Rugby title. Last year the board sent a strong message that they, like many supporters, were anxious about the title drought since 2008.

Blackadder, in return, promised changes. He demoted backs coach Daryl Gibson, who eventually left for the Waratahs, and recruited Canterbury coaches Matson and Mauger. However, the Crusaders backline, which earlier in the season struggled with the strategy of repeatedly shifting the ball wide, have yet to really rip opponents open.

Although they had the second-best attacking record in the NZ conference before last night's match against the Chiefs, they had amassed just three four-try bonus points. 

So why are the Crusaders board so advanced in their negotiations with the coaches before the play-offs? 

It is understood they have a belief Matson and Mauger deserve more time. Gripes about the forwards' performances under Blackadder and Hewett, who have guided a pack without Richie McCaw and successfully blooded Dominic Bird, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala and Codie Taylor, will have been minimal.

The need to build next year's squad will also have been considered. Contracting for next season is well underway. Players, providing their relationship isn't fractious, can be inclined to stick with a franchise if they know who their boss is.

If Blackadder and his crew were removed, the list of available and experienced New Zealand coaches, here and abroad, is short. Pitching around names such as Vern Cotter, Robbie Deans, Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland can be a fun exercise but all are committed to lucrative deals overseas.

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There has been speculation Deans will be punted if the Wallabies lose to the British and Irish Lions tonight but he is contracted until the end of this year. 

Former Wellington coach John Plumtree was recently sacked by the Sharks but his family is settled in South Africa. Although ex-All Blacks coach John Mitchell is also free after being chopped from the Johannesburg-based Lions, his reputation as a firebrand in the changing sheds and training pitch may be too hot for the Crusaders liking.

Tana Umaga (Counties) and Andrew Mehrtens (Beziers, France) are busy elsewhere, while Mike Brewer (ex-Sale boss and Scotland assistant) has withdrawn from coaching since returning to New Zealand.

- Fairfax Media

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