Umaga named Blues head coach

Date published: June 23 2015

The Blues have confirmed that former All Black centre Tana Umaga will replace the departed John Kirwan at the helm of the Super Rugby franchise.

Last week Kirwan stepped down from the role he had held for three years after the Auckland-based franchise produced the worst season in their Super Rugby history, finishing second from bottom after winning just three matches.

The Blues were a strong presence in the early days of Super Rugby, but have faded since they last won the title in 2003, making the playoffs just twice in the 12 season that have followed. Umaga has now been charged with turning the ailing franchise's fortunes around.

The Wellington-born Umaga played 74 Tests for New Zealand, 21 of which were as captain, before moving to French outfit Toulon following his international retirement in 2005.

The 42-year-old has been head coach for Counties Manukau in the ITM Cup since 2011, after starting out as a player/coach with Toulon.

"I am excited at the opportunity and of course understand there's a big challenge ahead for us all," said Umaga.

"There’s no quick fix to turn things around. It is going to take a lot of very hard work which will be my focus."

Blues chairman, Tony Carter said they are delighted to welcome Umaga as head coach, following unsatisfactory results in the 2015 Super Rugby season.

“The Board of the Blues has agreed unanimously that we have the right person for the job, and are thrilled Tana has accepted what we believe is both a hugely exciting opportunity and a massive challenge,” he said.

“We understand our fans and sponsors, along with everyone on and off the field in this club are not satisfied with our results especially this year.

“At the same time in the two years since we have been a stand-alone organisation we have developed a solid business from scratch. 

"Within the playing unit we have begun to develop a positive culture and beliefs, while we’ve worked hard on our relationships within the region and on identification and recruitment of future Super Rugby players.

“We will work tirelessly in support of Tana to assist him in now pulling this together and guiding our on-field performance to a sustained, competitive playing unit.”

New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew welcomed Umaga’s appointment.

“Tana is very well equipped to step up to this challenging role," he said. 

"He has spent valuable time in the ITM Cup environment with Counties Manukau, has coached at the top level in France and was part of the coaching team that steered New Zealand Under-20 to success in the recent World Championship.

“He has made the successful transition from professional player to coach so is very aware of the demands on athletes and what it takes to succeed at the highest level of the game. 

"We wish Tana all the best and will certainly ensure he has all the support he needs to allow him to make his mark.”

Umaga will take up his position fulltime at the end of his duties with Counties Manukau in the ITM Cup this year. Appointments to fill the vacant assistant coach roles will be made within the next two months.