Joe Schmidt joins Blues coaching staff for 2022 season

Highly sought after former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has been lured back to the Blues franchise in a notable appointment ahead of the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific season.

Schmidt was confirmed on Tuesday to step into a part-time role as a “support coach” to assist Leon MacDonald. He had been an assistant with the franchise from 407, before heading offshore to carve out a respectable international career, in France and Ireland.

The move back into coaching came after Schmidt had taken some time away from hands-on development following his 2019 World Cup commitments with Ireland, and is a positive move by the Blues after the off-season departure of key assistant coach Tana Umaga.

The Blues also announced that Auckland NPC defence coach Craig McGrath, a former halfback with the franchise, would step into Umaga’s defence role for the 2022 campaign. He will retain his position with the provincial side.

Schmidt’s addition is a notable one for an already accomplished coaching group who guided the franchise to their first championship since 2003 when they won this year’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition. He has been mentoring MacDonald for the last year, and formalises that role with this appointment.

Schmidt’s offshore experience began in France where he was an assistant coach under Vern Cotter from 2007-10, and helped guide the club to a Top 14 championship in his final season. He then guided Irish powerhouse Leinster (2010-13) to dual triumphs in the Heineken Cup, as well as a European Challenge Cup and Pro 12 League title, before becoming Ireland’s head coach from 2013-19.

After his record-setting stint with Ireland, Schmidt stepped into a role as director of rugby and high performance with World Rugby.

Blues CEO Andrew Hore said Schmidt’s addition to the coaching setup would provide valuable support for both MacDonald and McGrath in their roles.

“Our strategic plan is clear. We need to develop success for today and for tomorrow,” said Hore.

“In this role, Joe will support Leon and also Craig, as our new defence coach, given Joe’s own expertise as a defence coach over many years. It is an ideal blend of youth and experience, and we are rapt to have both join our camp.”

MacDonald said the addition of Schmidt to the Blues coaching group formalised a relationship that had already yielded plenty from his viewpoint.

“Joe has been mentoring me the last 12 months, which has been incredibly helpful,” said MacDonald. “Having him as part of the coaching team will give us a different voice in the mix and he can also look at things through a different lens and really challenge us.”