The Blues have restructured their coaching team for the 2019 Super Rugby Championship.
Leon MacDonald has today been appointed as the new head coach on a three-year term while retaining the attack portfolio alongside Tom Coventry as the forwards coach and Daniel Halangahu as the skills and back coach. Tana Umaga will take up a two-year contract as an Assistant Coach responsible for defence.
In May this year Umaga had his initial contract extended to 2019, but after the end of season review with the Blues and NZR Boards, all parties agreed that a re-alignment of roles would be the best way forward. The recent changes in Blues ownership meant that the full end-of-year review had not been formally reviewed by the Board until last month when it first met.
“After the end of season review I signalled that my passion lies with my new responsibility as Defence Coach and I believe that is where I can make the greatest contribution and difference at the Blues,” said Umaga.
“I support the decision to appoint Leon and I believe that the coaching team of Leon, Tom and myself is the best that we could have at the Blues for the 2019 season and beyond.”
MacDonald, the 56-Test All Black, got involved in the coaching environment at the Tasman Mako after his retirement from playing in 2010, before becoming assistant coach at the Crusaders in 2017. He then returned to coach the Mako in 2017 and 2018 and coached with Umaga at the New Zealand Under-20s campaign in 2015.
“I am highly motivated to help with the Blues’ vision for success,” said MacDonald. “I decided to move to the Blues to work with Tana and with Tom Coventry, and nothing has changed in that respect.
“This opportunity has arisen and I am honoured to have been considered for the role. I will give it my heart and soul. I’ve also talked to Tana and Tom and both of them are both hugely supportive and also very committed to our combined desire to continue to move this club forward.”
Blues Chief Executive Michael Redman said the change was a progressive decision by everyone involved.
“We have said previously that starting from scratch every time we are under pressure has not served the Blues well in the past. This is arguably the most challenging of the Super Rugby teams and currently the most challenging environment, at least in New Zealand,” said Redman. “Tana has a tremendous amount to contribute on the grass and he has learned a lot about this team. He can still apply this experience in his new role which will greatly assist Leon as new Head Coach.
“We are aware that this timing is not ideal but that was for good reason. That said, I want to publicly acknowledge everyone’s willingness to embrace change, and for their commitment to our club.
“We are excited about the leadership and vision that Leon will bring with the strong support from Tana, Tom and Dan.”
New Zealand Rugby’s Chief Rugby Officer Nigel Cass said Tana’s continued involvement would be critical to the club’s smooth transition to the new structure.
“It’s a credit to Tana, that he has put the team before himself, including ensuring there is continuity into the new season. “
Umaga said: “It’s been a challenging three years for me working for the first time as a Super Rugby Head Coach. I have learned a lot and I know I still have a lot more to offer.
“I will be 100 per cent behind helping to implement some of the strategies that we have identified that are still works-in-progress.
“I’ve learned a lot about the unique situation of the Blues and I will support and share those experiences with Leon, Tom and Daniel to best help bring success back to this club. At the same time my primary focus is on the really vital role as Defence Coach.”