The Blues will welcome back two former Blues personnel as additions to the coaching staff for 2022, which will add both youth and experience to the team’s coaching ranks.
Auckland Bunnings NPC defence coach Craig McGrath will be stepping up to join The Blues as defence coach for the Super Rugby Pacific campaign in 2022. He will retain his role with the Auckland NPC team.
Meanwhile, experienced international coach Joe Schmidt is returning to The Blues in a part-time role as a support coach and will assist Head Coach Leon MacDonald. Schmidt was formerly Assistant Coach with the Blues from 2005 to 2007, finishing with a close fought semi-final loss to the Sharks in Durban. During that time, McGrath also joined the Blues as a replacement halfback.
Schmidt went on to coach in France with Clermont Auvergne, winning the Top 14 Championship and then in Ireland with Leinster winning the Heineken Cup twice as well as a European Challenge Cup and Pro 12 League before becoming Ireland’s Head Coach from 2013 to 2019. After his record-breaking stint with Ireland, Schmidt was appointed World Rugby’s Director of Rugby and High Performance.
McGrath, like Schmidt, had a stint as a player-coach in Ireland after playing in Italy, before switching full-time to coaching. He was an assistant coach with the Melbourne Rebels for four seasons and then with the Honda HEAT in Japan for three years, joining the Auckland NPC coaching staff with responsibility for defence and skills development in 2020.
The additions to the coaching staff follow the departure of Tana Umaga who stepped down as defence coach to focus on his family business after the Blues’ successful 2021 Super Rugby season.
Blues CEO Andrew Hore says bringing Craig McGrath into the Blues environment would build on and continue to develop the excellent work of Tana Umaga, while the addition of Joe Schmidt gave the coaching team access to a vast bank of knowledge and experience that would help all the coaches.
“Our strategic plan is clear. We need to develop success for today and develop success for tomorrow,” says Hore.
“In this role, Joe will be able to 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 be able to have both join our camp.”
Head coach Leon MacDonald says the additions will strengthen the coaching team and sees an evolution of his own dialogue and relationship with Schmidt.
“Joe has been mentoring me the last 12 months, which has been incredibly helpful. 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.”
Adding McGrath as defence coach is also part of future-proofing the Blues.
“Craig brings that fresh approach and adds to the group of young coaches we have here now, who we are really keen to develop and grow as part of building strong foundations for ongoing success,” says MacDonald.
Schmidt says the support coach role will see him come full circle in his coaching journey having started in fully professional rugby with The Blues, after a successful tenure as Bay of Plenty’s assistant coach.
“I’m really looking forward to coming back and helping out the coaching staff at The Blues. I know pretty much the whole crew and it’s a nice fit stepping in for Tana, who I greatly respect.
“I have really enjoyed getting to know Leon. He is doing a great job and has got the team in a really good place after their success this year. I’ve also got a lot of time for Ice (McGrath) and look forward to linking up with him again,” says Schmidt.
For his part, McGrath remembers getting coaching notes from Schmidt after his first week of training with The Blues and says it gave him an insight into what was required at the professional level.
“I’m really grateful to The Blues, Auckland and to Leon for this opportunity – and having Joe involved means I get the opportunity to have access to all his experience, especially in defence, and get world-class professional development every day,” McGrath says.
He also sees the appointment as closing a loop.
“Having been a player and then in my work with Honda we had an association with The Blues, so it was always at the back of mind that I wanted to come back to Auckland and The Blues at some stage.”
Both coaches will take up their new roles in the coming weeks as The Blues move into pre-season training ahead of the new Super Rugby Pacific 2022 season.
Key All Black announces sabbatical to play in Japan
All Blacks captain Sam Cane will take up a sabbatical option in his New Zealand Rugby (NZR) contract in 2024 to play a season for Suntory in Japan League One.
The 31-year-old, 95-Test loose forward will miss the 2024 DHL Super Rugby Pacific season with the Chiefs, but will return to New Zealand in June to be available for selection to the All Blacks for the 2024 Steinlager Series and Rugby Championship campaign.
Cane, who is contracted to NZR through to the end of 2025, said he was looking forward to experiencing a new playing environment with Suntory and learning more about a new culture in Japan.
“When the opportunity to play for Suntory in 2024 came up it felt like the right time following the Rugby World Cup to try something new and also a great chance to continue to grow and learn in my rugby and life journey. I’m grateful to New Zealand Rugby for their support to take this opportunity.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to skip a season with the Chiefs, but I know the team is in a great place and has an incredible group of leaders in the squad and the coaching group to have a successful 2024, and I’m really pleased to be able to return in time to put my best foot forward for selection in the All Blacks.”
NZR CEO Mark Robinson said:
“Sam’s decision to take a sabbatical in 2024 has our full support and we wish him and his family all the best for their time in Japan. There are very few players who have given as much as he has to the jerseys he’s worn in his career to date and it’s a mark of his commitment to the All Blacks that he will return and make himself available for the Test season.”
Gallagher Chiefs Head Coach Clayton McMillan said:
“Sam has given everything to this team on and off the field and deserves to take this opportunity to experience something different. He is an exceptional player and influential leader who has been an integral part of the Gallagher Chiefs for many years. We wish him and his family all the best and hope they enjoy their time in Japan after a full-on year.”
Key All Black commits to Gallagher Chiefs until 2025
Dominant loose forward Luke Jacobson has extended his contract with the Gallagher Chiefs, Waikato and New Zealand Rugby until the end of 2025.
The 18-test All Black was a consistent starter for the Gallagher Chiefs this year and a key element of their outstanding DHL Super Rugby Pacific performances. He consequently went on to be named in the All Blacks squad to travel to France.
Gallagher Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan is delighted to have Jacobson sticking around for another two seasons.
“Luke is an outstanding player; he’s a workhorse, a consistent performer and considered a real warrior within our group. Luke leads by example both on and off the field. He isnt one to waste words and prefers to let his actions speak for themself. In the absence of some senior players who have moved on, I have no doubt Luke will play an integral part providing the leadership and guidance our younger players will be looking for”.
Jacobson has impressed throughout his career, playing for the New Zealand U20s team twice and captaining them in his second season to win the 2017 U20 World Championship title. This aptitude for leadership has seen him pull on the Gallagher Chiefs captain’s armband on multiple occasions.
Waikato Rugby head coach Ross Filipo is excited about Luke extending his career with Waikato. “He is a great man and a great leader who continues to make huge contributions on and off the field and always represents the region with pride.”
Speaking on his signing Jacobson said: “I’m stoked to signing on with the Waikato, Chiefs and NZR for another two years. I love representing these teams and am very proud to be able to call myself a Waikato/Chiefs man and also and All black. I’m hungry to succeed with these teams and tick off a few unticked boxes.”
The 2024 Gallagher Chiefs squad will be named later this year ahead of assembling for pre-season training.
QUARTERFINAL PREVIEW: All Blacks v Ireland (Rugby World Cup 2023)
Get ready for what is arguably the most anticipated quarterfinal in Rugby World Cup history as number one-ranked Ireland squares off with three-time champions, the All Blacks, for a spot in the semifinals.
MATCH DETAILS: All Blacks v Ireland, Saturday 14 October, 9pm CET, Stade de France, Paris (Sunday 15 October, 8am NZT)
Won: All Blacks 30, Ireland 5, drawn 1
Last time: All Blacks 22, Ireland 32 (16 July 2022, Sky Stadium, Wellington)
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Ireland qualified for the quarterfinals as the winners of Pool B with victories over Romania (82-8), Tonga (59-16), South Africa (13-8) and Scotland (36-14). They have now won 17 Test matches in a row. The most consecutive victories for a tier one nation stands at 18 by New Zealand (2015-2016) and England (2015-2017). The All Blacks qualified for the quarterfinals by coming second in Pool A. The team rebounded from an opening round 13-27 loss to France to beat Namibia (71-3), Italy (96-17) and Uruguay (73-0) to sew up a spot in the quarterfinals.
All BLACKS SQUAD UPDATE
With a combined 1366 Test caps worth of experience, the match day 23 will be led out by captain Sam Cane in front of 80,000 fans at Stade de France. Cane is joined by Ardie Savea and Shannon Frizell in the starting loose forward trio. It will mark the first time they have run out together since the team’s 35-20 win over South Africa in Auckland. Meanwhile, loosehead prop Ethan de Groot has returned from suspension to join Codie Taylor and Tyrel Lomax in the front row. Their last start together was in the team’s 38-7 win over Australia in Melbourne. After an impressive hat-trick against Namibia, Leicester Fainga’anuku has been selected on the left wing and will feature alongside Beauden Barrett and Will Jordan in the back three.
UNCHANGED IRISH STARTING FIFTEEN
Ireland coach Andy Farrell has named an unchanged starting XV for the first time at RWC 2023. The only two changes to the match-day team from last week’s victory against Scotland are on the bench, with Joe McCarthy replacing fellow second row James Ryan (injured) and Jimmy O’Brien replacing Stuart McCloskey. Johnny Sexton will play his 15th Test against the All Blacks for Ireland, and 18th overall including the British and Irish Lions. He will surpass Alun Wyn Jones (17) for most Tests by any Northern Hemisphere player against New Zealand.
Irish pivot Johnny Sexton said the side had worked on its mental game since losing to the All Blacks in the 2019 quarterfinal and had put themselves in different scenarios to prepare for knockout rugby. “Each quarterfinal or where we haven’t got through our pool, have all been different, and it’s a different group again. Each of those groups lost once,” Sexton said. “It wasn’t the same group losing quarterfinals year and year. If it was club rugby it might be different, but I don’t think we are carrying much baggage. It is a one-off game and we have got to prepare for now.”
All Blacks captain Sam Cane said the side is treating the clash against Ireland as a final. “We take confidence from the hard work that has gone into the preparation. We are going in with confidence, and it will be about executing what we have done on the training pitch out there, under massive pressure, in front of a full crowd,” Cane said. “If we are able to do that, and do it consistently, we will give ourselves a really good shot at winning.”
New Zealand have scored the most tries of any of the eight quarterfinalists with 38 tries at an average of 9.5 per game. Ireland and France are second equal with 27 tries at an average of 6.8 tries per match.
Tune into NZR+ for the pre-match live show with Jim Hamilton and special guests pitch side at Stade de France. Stream the pre-match live show for free HERE.
All Blacks (caps in brackets):
1. Ethan de Groot (19) 2. Codie Taylor (82) 3. Tyrel Lomax (29) 4. Brodie Retallick (106) 5. Scott Barrett (66) 6. Shannon Frizell (30) 7. Sam Cane (c) (92) 8. Ardie Savea (78) 9. Aaron Smith (122)
10. Richie Mo’unga (53) 11. Leicester Fainga’anuku (6) 12. Jordie Barrett (54) 13. Rieko Ioane (66) 14. Will Jordan (28) 15. Beauden Barrett (120)
Reserves: 16. Dane Coles (89) 17. Tamaiti Williams (5) 18. Fletcher Newell (11) 19. Samuel Whitelock (150) 20. Dalton Papali’i (29) 21. Finlay Christie (19) 22. Damian McKenzie (45) 23. Anton Lienert-Brown (67)
1 Andrew Porter 2 Dan Sheehan 3 Tadhg Furlong 4 Tadhg Beirne 5 Iain Henderson 6 Peter O’Mahony 7 Josh van der Flier 8 Caelan Doris 9 Jamison Gibson-Park 10 Johnny Sexton (c) 11 James Lowe 12 Bundee Aki 13 Garry Ringrose 14 Mack Hansen 15 Hugo Keenan
Reserves: 16 Ronan Kelleher 17 Dave Kilcoyne 18 Finlay Bealham 19 Joe McCarthy 20 Jack Conan 21 Conor Murray 22 Jack Crowley 23 Jimmy O’Brien