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.
Saints sign Wallabies star
Northampton Saints are delighted to confirm the signing of Australian international lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto ahead of the 2022/23 season.
The 6’6” second row – who clocks in at 116kgs and can also line up in the back row – has 30 Test caps to his name for the Wallabies, and will arrive at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens following the conclusion of the 2022 Super Rugby campaign.
After representing Sydney’s Western Suburbs rugby league side at age-group level, Salakaia-Loto came through the Colts and Shute Shield teams for Randwick, also getting selected for Australia in the 2015 and 2016 World Rugby Under-20s Championships.
He signed his first professional contract with Queensland Reds in 2015 and has since enjoyed a stellar seven-year Super Rugby career, making 64 appearances in the competition to date.
His form for the Reds was rewarded with a Test debut for Australia against South Africa in 2017; Salakaia-Loto then notched up five appearances at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and has also taken his Rugby Championship tally to 12, but the 25-year-old is now relishing the prospect of proving his ability in the Gallagher Premiership.
“I am incredibly excited to be signing for Northampton Saints, a prestigious Club which is known around the world and boasts a long history of success,” Salakaia-Loto said.
“I’ve heard that Franklin’s Gardens is an amazing place to play rugby, and for a long time now, I have wanted to test myself in the Northern Hemisphere.”Lukhan Salakaia-Loto
“The Northampton squad is already filled with talent and I’m just looking forward to getting over to England later this year to try to develop my game, and help the team win some trophies.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for me and my family, so I can’t wait to pull on a Black, Green and Gold jersey for the first time.”
Saints’ incoming Director of Rugby, Phil Dowson, added: “First and foremost, Lukhan is a big man and a phenomenal athlete, who in the lineout can both jump and call as well. From a set-piece point of view that’s a massive feather in his cap as he can get in the air in attack and in defence.
“But he’s also got a fantastic skillset with a background in rugby league; he’s fast and has got the ability to move and offload the ball too, so he possesses all the credentials he needs to be a real handful in the Gallagher Premiership.
“He’s still a young man at 25, but is really highly regarded within the Australian environment and comes to Franklin’s Gardens with international experience – so he’s a very exciting signing for us and I’m sure he will add a huge amount to the group.”
Samu extends Brumbies & Wallabies stay
Wallabies and Brumbies backrower Pete Samu has re-signed with Australian Rugby until the end of 2023.
Born in Melbourne, 30-year-old Samu has settled at the Brumbies after a unique Rugby story saw him play in Cornwall in the United Kingdom straight out of school before returning to play for Randwick in Sydney, followed by a stint in New Zealand where he won two Super Rugby Championships with the Crusaders.
He was lured home in 2018 to the Brumbies where he again tasted Super Rugby success in 2020.
Known for his athleticism, speed and skill, the versatile backrower made his International debut in 2018 against Ireland but narrowly missed selection in the 2019 Rugby World Cup squad.
He has since gone on to wear the Wallaby gold 19 times, starting at openside flanker against Wales in the side’s final Test of 2021 and will chase a maiden Rugby World Cup berth in 2023.
Wallabies and Brumbies backrower, Pete Samu said: “I’m really happy to have my future sorted out early on in the year so I can focus on playing my best Rugby for the Brumbies in Super Rugby Pacific.”
“I’ve loved my time here at the Brumbies since coming over in 2018, it’s a special club and my family and I are really settled here in Canberra.
“I feel I’ve got a lot of improvement left in my game and to be able to work alongside world class coaches like Laurie (Fisher) and Dan (McKellar) week in week out will help me achieve that.”
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said: “Pete’s a great team man and we’re thrilled he’s extended his commitment to Australian Rugby.”
“His athleticism and speed are a point of difference across the backrow and we think his best footy lies ahead of him in the gold jersey.
“He’s had an unorthodox journey to get to where he is and you can see how motivated he is to make the most of his opportunities.”
Brumbies coach, Dan McKellar said: “It’s great for the Brumbies to have Pete locked in for another season.”
“He’s got a point of difference in attack you don’t see from many backrowers and when he’s healthy and on form, he’s a genuine match winner.
“He bought into what we’re about here at the Brumbies from very early on and he’s extremely popular, both within our group and among our members and supporters so we’re all thrilled to have him in a Brumbies jersey until the end of 2023.”
Beale return to Australia confirmed
Rugby Australia and the NSW Waratahs are delighted to announce Kurtley Beale will return to home soil after committing to Australian Rugby until the end of 2023.
Currently plying his trade in France’s Top 14, Beale has featured in 95 Tests for the Wallabies and was most recently called into the national set up by Dave Rennie for the side’s Spring Tour in the United Kingdom.
The versatile Beale can cover a range of positions across the backline but has been predominantly seen at fullback during his last two seasons playing for his French club, Racing 92.
A member of the past three Wallabies’ Rugby World Cup squads, Beale’s return puts him squarely in the frame to become just the third Australian to feature at four World Cup tournaments.
The 33-year-old is currently the second most capped NSW Waratah with 148 Super Rugby games across 11 seasons for the club.
Beale will return to the Wallabies and Australian Rugby following the conclusion of the 2021 French Top 14 season and will be available for the 2022 Wallabies’ International season and the Waratahs’ 2023 Super Rugby Pacific competition.
Returning Wallabies and NSW Waratahs back, Kurtley Beale said: “I’m really happy to be returning to Australia and would like to thank RA and the Waratahs for allowing me that opportunity.”
“There’s nothing better than representing my state and my country and I’ll be working hard to earn the right to do both when I return to Australia.
“From what I can see the Waratahs and the Wallabies are building really strong cultures and environments and I’ll be looking to contribute as much as I can to ensure that continues.”
Rugby Australia CEO, Andy Marinos said: “We’re really pleased that Kurtley is returning home and committed to Australian Rugby to the end of the 2023 season. “
“His decision is especially significant given the current Rugby player market and speaks to his desire to represent both the Waratahs and the Wallabies again. We remain determined to be successful and play a brand of rugby that delivers results and engages fans. Kurtley has shown this in his career to date and we are excited to see the continued impact he can have as we build towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
“Kurtley’s return certainly adds depth and experience to Australian Rugby, in positions that provide an opportunity to showcase his skill and diversity. With a new Super Rugby competition and a packed home Test season against Tier 1 nations, there is a lot to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead from both Kurtley and the teams he plays in.”
NSW Waratahs Head Coach, Darren Coleman said: “It’s going to be great having Kurtley back not only for the team but for the NSW Rugby public.
“He’s an excitement machine and his ability to play multiple positions is a real asset for us.”
“I’ve had a long association with Kurtley dating back to 2006 and he’s a really positive guy to have around.
“I feel he will be a great mentor for some of our young backs as they progress through their professional career.”
Born: 6 January 1989
Place of birth: Blacktown, New South Wales
Super Rugby debut: 2007 v Brumbies, Canberra (NSW Waratahs)
Super Rugby caps: 148 (NSW Waratahs); 14 (Melbourne Rebels)
Test debut: 2009 v Wales, Cardiff
Test caps: 95