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.
Joe Schmidt to join All Blacks as Independent Selector
One of New Zealand’s leading coaches, former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, is to replace former All Black Grant Fox as the All Blacks Independent Selector.
Fox will be stepping down after next year’s Steinlager Series selection after a decade as a Selector, firstly under former Head Coach Steve Hansen and latterly alongside current Head Coach Ian Foster and fellow selector John Plumtree.
In announcing the appointment, Foster said it was exciting to have someone of Schmidt’s calibre take on the role.
“Joe will bring a wealth of New Zealand and international experience into the role, so we are delighted to have him join us. He will work closely with me and ‘Plums’ on selections but his insights will be valuable in other areas as well, so we look forward to having him join us.”
Schmidt is currently working part time with the Blues for next year’s Super Rugby Pacific competition and will then join the All Blacks, with his first All Blacks selection role to be helping select the squad for the Rugby Championship.
Schmidt was formerly an Assistant Coach with the Blues from 2005 to 2007. He coached Ireland from 2013 to 2019, winning three Six Nations titles, and also won titles coaching French club Clermont Auvergne and Irish club Leinster. He was also recently World Rugby’s Director of Rugby and High Performance.
Schmidt said: “It’s humbling to be involved and I’m looking forward to learning more about the players and the All Blacks environment and helping out as best I can.”
Foster added that Fox had planned to leave his role as Independent Selector following Rugby World Cup 2019, but he was delighted that he’d been able to convince him to stay until early next year.
“Foxy has been huge for me personally and for the team as a whole and we were so grateful to have him involved for longer than expected. He says now is the time for him to fully focus on his family and business interests. We will farewell him closer to the time when he finishes up next year.”
Leicester confirm signing of Springbok
Leicester Tigers will welcome World Cup-winning fly-half Handré Pollard to the club ahead of the 2022/23 season.
The South Africa international will make the move to Leicester from French club Montpellier.
The 27-year-old has been capped on 60 occasions by the Springboks since making his Test debut against Scotland in 2014 while still a member of the South Africa Under-20s squad.
Pollard played youth rugby for Western Province, in Cape Town, while attending Paarl Gimnasium School and was selected for South Africa Schoolboys in 2012.
That same year, Pollard was selected for the Junior Springboks as an 18-year-old and remained in the squad for three successive seasons, captaining the age-grade national side in his final year.
In 2013, Pollard moved to the University of Pretoria and represented UP Tuks while also making his provincial debut for the Blue Bulls in South Africa’s Currie Cup competition.
His Super Rugby debut followed in 2014 for the Bulls, who he would represent for the next five seasons, as well as a lone campaign for Japanese club NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes in 2015/16.
After playing in South Africa’s 2019 Rugby World Cup win, Pollard joined current club Montpellier.
An accomplished goal-kicker, he has registered more than 600 points for the Springboks at an average of more than 10 points per Test.
He represented the Barbarians in 2018 and recently shared in South Africa’s series win over the British & Irish Lions.
Speaking about the addition of Pollard to the Leicester Tigers squad for next season, Head Coach Steve Borthwick said: “Handré is a world-class fly-half who brings with him a wealth of experience from Super Rugby, Top14 and international rugby.
“He is a World Cup winner who has been highly sought-after from clubs all over the globe. But, most pleasingly, he sees Leicester Tigers as the club for him.
“What has impressed me most in our dealings with him has been his desire to be a part of what we are building at this club but also his desire to develop, learn and grow as a player and person.
“This is a very exciting signing for the club and one I hope Leicester Tigers fans are excited about.”
Discussing his decision to join Leicester Tigers, Pollard said: “I am excited to join Leicester Tigers, to be a part of this great group of players at a special club and challenge myself, test my limits and be the very best I can be for the team.
“The club is going brilliantly at the moment and I know there is an expectation to continue that, to keep getting better because getting to the top is hard but staying there is even harder.
“There are bigger deals on the table, but I’ve made this decision to work with Steve [Borthwick] and to be a part of an unreal, great club at Leicester Tigers which has such a great history,” he added.
The Springboks fly-half also spoke of his excitement ahead of playing at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
“I don’t know the whole history of Leicester Tigers, but this is a club that is so well renowned worldwide,” he said.
“Everybody I have spoken to about playing there, for Tigers or an away team, say it’s the one stadium that is on another level.”
Pollard will link up with his new Leicester Tigers team-mates at the conclusion of international commitments ahead of the 2022/23 season.
Sam Cane commits long-term future to New Zealand
All Blacks, Chiefs and Bay of Plenty loose forward Sam Cane has recommitted to New Zealand Rugby, inking a new deal with his national union, Super Rugby club and province through to 2025.
29-year-old Cane has been a mainstay of the national game since making his professional rugby debut with the Gallagher Chiefs as an 18 year old in 2010 and made his All Blacks debut two years later. The 2015 Rugby World Cup winner has gone on to play for the All Blacks in 77 Tests (56 starts) and captained the team ten times. He has played 126 times for the Gallagher Chiefs.
Cane said he was stoked to be committing to New Zealand Rugby for four more years.
“My passion for the game, whether it’s playing for the All Blacks, Gallagher Chiefs or Bay of Plenty, is as strong as when I started playing, so it was an easy decision for me to extend my contract, and my wife Harriet and I are excited about what the future holds.
“I’m now looking forward to spending summer with my family and friends, and coming back ready go to again in 2022.”
All Blacks Head Coach Ian Foster, who selected Cane as his captain last year, said: “We are thrilled that Sam has made a long-term commitment to New Zealand Rugby.
“He’s an instrumental part of the All Blacks leadership group in his role as captain and I know that following a year in which he missed a lot of rugby with his significant injury, he is fully committed to being at his very best in 2022 and beyond, which is exciting.
“We’re delighted for him and Harriet.”
NZR General Manager Professional Rugby and Performance Chris Lendrum added: “We are blessed to have a person of Sam’s calibre playing in New Zealand and he has been an exceptional and loyal player since coming into the professional ranks as a young man.
“He’s one of the most respected players and voices in our game and all the teams that he has played for have benefitted from his outstanding play and leadership. We’re delighted that he has chosen to stay with New Zealand Rugby for four more years.”
As part of his contract, Cane has the option of taking a non-playing or playing break from the New Zealand game in 2024.
Gallagher Chiefs Head Coach Clayton McMillan said: “Sam is an exceptional player and highly respected leader, who has a great rapport with both coaches and players. He is passionate about the teams he is involved with and continues to demonstrate that through his ultra-consistent performances on the field.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have his services and look forward to seeing him continue to further his already impressive career.”
Chiefs Rugby Club CEO Michael Collins added: “Having Sam recommit for another four years is an outstanding result. We are incredibly proud of what Sam has achieved so far for the Gallagher Chiefs, All Blacks and Bay of Plenty. We are very much looking forward to seeing him on the field in Super Rugby Pacific in 2022 and beyond.”
Bay of Plenty Rugby Union CEO Mike Rogers said Cane had always been incredibly proud of his roots in the Bay of Plenty.
“When he has the opportunity, he goes out of his way to support rugby in the Bay and even when he’s not physically able to be present, he’s always engaged and prepared to offer his time and support in other ways.
“He made a massive contribution to our environment this year during the Bunnings NPC as he was returning from injury and remains a massive inspiration to the thousands of young male and female players that play rugby in Bay of Plenty.”
Sam Cane – mini bio
Name: Sam Cane
Born: 13 January 1992, Rotorua
Position: Loose forward
Provincial team: Bay of Plenty
Super Rugby team: Chiefs
Test Debut: 16 June 2012 vs Ireland in Christchurch
Test Caps: 77
Test Points: 80 (16 tries)
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