Blues bring back their coaching group for another crack in 2021

The Blues know a good thing when they've got it building, and have locked in their five-strong coaching group for at least one more Super Rugby season.

The franchise confirmed ahead of this week's squad announcement for 2021 (7am Thursday) that their entire coaching group had reupped for next season at least as they look to make further ground in the wake of their 2020 breakthrough.

Defence coach Tana Umaga, who is closely linked with the Moana Pasifika group seeking to come into Super Rugby for 2022, had already announced his one-season extension at the Blues to join head coach Leon MacDonald, while forwards coach Tom Coventry and back attack/skills guru Dan Halangahu have confirmed they will remain on board “until 2022”.

Former All Black prop Ben Afeaki, who moved to a fulltime role as scrum coach in 2020, will also return for a further season to keep the band intact. The Blues finally lifted themselves off the wooden-spoon spot in New Zealand this year when they finished an honourable runnerup in Super Rugby Aotearoa, behind the Crusaders.

Blues CEO Andrew Hore hoped the stability and continuity of a “world-class” coaching group would have major spinoffs for the franchise.

“They have driven the development and maturation of this group of young players,” said Hore. “They all have a remarkable understanding of the game, which is matched by their desire, attention to detail and determination to help mould this group into good citizens on and off the field.

“We have a long way to go as a group, but we could not be more pleased that this cluster of coaches will continue to drive our team.”

MacDonald said it was important the coaching group continued to build on what they had established through their first two seasons together.

“We know just how demanding the Super Ruby Aotearoa competition will be and the trans-Tasman element to follow.

“I greatly enjoy working with this group of people. We are all very different, but we have a shared desire to do our best to guide this team and these young men forward.”

The Blues went 5-2 in Super Rugby proper prior to the lockdown and then 5-2 in Super Rugby Aotearoa, before their regular season finale against the Cusaders was cancelled because of the Covid community outbreak in the Auckland region.

They had not finished better than ninth in the competition since their semifinal appearance in 2011.

MacDonald will unveil a largely settled squad for 2021 this week, though they do have one major hole to fill, with star All Blacks playmaker Beauden Barrett absent on his Japanese sabbatical. Young Auckland fullback Zarn Sullivan is expected to fill the void at fullback, with some help from utility back Stephen Perofeta.