Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Meet the men Kirwan backs to resuscitate Blues

Sir John Kirwan. Photo / Greg Bowker
Sir John Kirwan. Photo / Greg Bowker

Sporting knights Sir John Kirwan and Sir Graham Henry are well known in Blues country, Mick Byrne has grown in exposure but Grant Doorey is a new name for the rugby community to digest.

That quartet was unveiled yesterday as the coaching group to guide the Blues next season as the franchise seeks some redemption since its last Super rugby title success in 2003.

Kirwan, Byrne and Doorey - a former rugby league player who turned to coaching league then union in Europe - coached Japan together at last year's World Cup, while Henry, after that triumph, has been used as mentoring consultant across all five New Zealand franchises and in Argentina.

He turned down a chance to assist Pat Lam with the Blues this season because he wanted some space after the World Cup. So why now?

"Because I love it basically," he said. "I really enjoy the coaching process, being involved in the team and I have missed it."

Kirwan's philosophy was to have strong coaches around him who were proven specialists.

"For me the buck stops here," he said jabbing his chest, "but from a management point of view, these guys are in charge of their areas and will have all the space they need to deliver that."

The Blues would also have a scrum specialist but that part-time appointment had yet to be made.

So far there are 17 contracted players on the books and the coaching group will start watching the ITM Cup from tonight's opening match and scour the region, then the country, to find the balance of the squad. There were no thoughts at this stage of signing any overseas talent.

The group broke after yesterday's announcement at Eden Park to go into further meetings about the shape of their squad for next year's series.

"We are talking to other players who are off contract and we are interested in, and we have another 17 places to fill so we have plenty of work to do," said Kirwan.

"I'm sure the whole coaching team will attract players. I hope that will be the case."

Coaching was a high-pressure situation and Kirwan said they all needed to understand each other, but he also encouraged friction and confrontation as ways of wrestling with coaching, playing and selection ideas.

"I needed to deliver people to this franchise who I believe are world-class," he said.

Kirwan will deal with attack, Henry defence and technical advice, Byrne the forwards and kicking, Doorey skills and the backs.

Byrne was the best technician Kirwan knew and he continued to be wowed by his skills and knowledge.

"For me kicking is like attack so he brings that as well," Kirwan said.

The coaching group had listed five players they rated as possible Blues picks for each position in the team and were content with their five-eighths choices.

Kirwan believed both listed first five-eighths, Gareth Anscombe and Chris Noakes, had "good upside", while there was also backup from Michael Hobbs. The coaching staff believed they could draw much more out of that trio.

There were some gaps and issues like injuries for test locks Ali Williams and Anthony Boric.

"I think we will have a pretty young football team, especially in the backs. We will be a young, exciting team."

- NZ Herald

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