Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Kirwan wants to coach the Blues

Former All Black John Kirwan, who has a raft of coaching experience overseas, wants to return to New Zealand and covets mentoring the Blues. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Former All Black John Kirwan, who has a raft of coaching experience overseas, wants to return to New Zealand and covets mentoring the Blues. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A decade ago, John Kirwan dipped his toes into the Blues set-up as manager for a year then assistant coach for a season.

They were tough times for everyone, two years of extensive learning and experience for the former All Black wing.

Coach Gordon Hunter battled ill-health in his brief Blues tenure and was succeeded by Frank Oliver, while there were all sorts of administrative ructions before the franchise "encouraged" chief executive Geoff Hipkins' exit.

Ten years on and Kirwan wants to coach the Blues.

In the interim, the 47-year-old has coached Italy and Japan, he has soaked up methods from around the globe, he has done more than an apprenticeship and wants to come home.

His heart is with the Blues.

"I'd come home tomorrow if I was offered the job," he told the Herald.

"I'm passionate about the Blues region and it has been my goal to coach back in New Zealand."

Kirwan's problem is multi-layered.

Like many coaches based in Europe, he is being offered jobs with answers expected in the next month, otherwise it will be another year until the next lot of European vacancies.

UK clubs Sale, Munster and Gloucester have inquired about his availability while a number of French clubs have made contact as the Top Six sorts itself out.

Meanwhile, the Super 15 will not finish until August and reviews and reports into each New Zealand franchise will then be undertaken.

No decisions on staff will be made until at least a month later.

In the meantime, officials in most franchises have begun contracting players for the 2013 season and beyond. If a Super 15 coach is not required after his review, the next man in charge must accept a playing roster generated largely by his predecessor.

Blues officials from chief executive Andy Dalton, through the chairman-less board to those connected to the squad, continue to defend Lam. They will suggest the team has the quality to improve and it is inappropriate to discuss Lam's future with the season only half completed.

Lam also has an offer, apparently unsigned though, to take the team in the 2013 season.

Those who look with cut-throat clarity at the Blues, know the entire organisation needs reconstruction.

Two fourth-place finishes since the Blues last won the title in 2003, is a limp collection.

Advocates for change know that the coaching alternatives to Lam are broader now than they will be later in the year.

By then possible targets, such as Kirwan, Vern Cotter and Joe Schmidt, are more likely to have signed on for club or country duty in Europe.

They need to support their families and to keep evolving as their sport develops.

Kirwan does not want to leave any impression he is dancing on Lam's coaching grave but he answered several Herald questions about his interest in coaching in New Zealand.

It was, he said, one of his goals.

He was being targeted in Europe but his preference was to "get home" and win.

He has turned down offers in the Northern Hemisphere to coach at both club and country level.

The Herald also understands Kirwan met senior NZRU officials during the World Cup to reinforce his ambition to coach a Super 15 squad and to inquire about his pathway.

If he or someone else replaced Lam and got that encouragement now, planning and selection for the Blues in 2013 could start without it being a rushed job at the end of the season.

Blues contenders

Vern Cotter: Crusaders assistant, Clermont coach for six years, applied for All Blacks 2012.
John Kirwan: Blues manager and assistant 2000-01, Italy coach 2002-05, Japan coach 2007-11.
Pat Lam: Blues coach 2009 - played 51 won 24, lost 26 drew 1 (before last night).
John Mitchell: All Black coach 2001-03, Force coach 2006-10, Lions coach 2010-
Rob Penney: Canterbury coach 2008-11 four titles, NZ under-20s coach.
Wayne Pivac: Northland, North Harbour and present Auckland coach, Fiji 2004-5.
Joe Schmidt: Bay of Plenty coach, Blues assistant 2005-07, Clermont 2008-10, Leinster 2010-12.
Bryce Woodward: Northland coach 1999-2002, 10, NZ under-21s 2002-05, Blues assistant 2012.
Peter de Villiers: Springbok coach 2008-11.

- NZ Herald

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