Rugby: Steve Jackson named Blues assistant coach

By Campbell Burnes

The Blues have got their man and now just one piece of the 2017 coaching jigsaw remains to be fitted. Photo / Getty Images.
The Blues have got their man and now just one piece of the 2017 coaching jigsaw remains to be fitted. Photo / Getty Images.

The Blues have got their man and now just one piece of the 2017 coaching jigsaw remains to be fitted.

As expected, North Harbour coach Steve Jackson is the new Blues assistant coach. He will take charge of the forwards, succeeding Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore, who was off contract. Auckland's Nick White has lost his scrum coach role after it was disestablished.

Jackson had previously worked well with Blues coach Tana Umaga when they collaborated at Counties Manukau, culminating in Ranfurly Shield success and reaching the 2013 Premiership semifinals. Jackson helped take the Steelers forward pack from being a talented group prone to flimsiness to a physical unit who excelled at set-piece.

"I had to go through a process, like everyone else, and I was just thankful that I was successful. I'm looking forward to getting that relationship going again with Tana, because I know what he brings as a coach. I've had a bit to do with (fellow Blues assistant and defence coach) Alastair Rogers too and I like what he brings to the table," says Jackson, who in the meantime has his hands full as he seeks to guide North Harbour into the Mitre 10 Cup Championship semifinals.

His three-year deal with Harbour is up after the competition ends next month, and it was always felt, once Umaga was elevated to the Blues' head coaching position last year, that Jackson would graduate to the Blues by 2017.

Jackson will bring a no-nonsense approach to a Blues pack slowly regaining respect.

"One thing I'll bring is that it's not about having the prettiest forward pack in the world. It's about guys rolling up their sleeves. If we supply good quality ball to the backs, they can really rip open teams," he says.

"The Blues finished the season on a high and I'm looking forward to working with them from November," says Jackson.

He brings a solid working knowledge of the talent within the Blues region, having guided the Blues Development XV to an unbeaten record since 2014.

Umaga was on other business, but Blues high performance manager Tony Hanks was able to explain some of the rationale behind the signing of Jackson to the Herald.

"We want to ensure that people know that it's not just about his links with Tana. Jacko got this job on merit. He has been involved with the Blues longer than Tana and has always been really invested in everything. If I ring him up and say we are doing some Under 17s or 18s stuff, he's there," says Hanks. "He understands a lot about what the club is about."

Hanks, who gets around, watches a heap of Mitre 10 Cup live, and was in Taupo on Wednesday checking out finals days at the Jock Hobbs Memorial national Under 19 tournament. He knows who is out there, who is available and who could be contracted to his franchise. There are only two places left to fill on the 2017 Blues roster, with several Counties Manukau players such as Jimmy Tupou, August Pulu, and Sonny Bill Williams having already hitched their carts to the Umaga wagon. Prop Pauliasi Manu, who returns from long-term injury for the Steelers tonight, is also thought to be in their sights, though there is nothing set in stone yet with the former Blue, who left the franchise in 2012, popping up a year later to win a Super title with the Chiefs.

"We're excited to have the form No 9 of the competition playing for us. It's great to Augie Pulu playing well and injury-free," says Hanks.

The Blues will be announcing a skills coach in due course, but Hanks was happy to explain what the situation was with Nick White's former job as scrum coach.

"Nick's got his teeth into that Auckland job. There was a bit of a shift in terms of the forwards role, probably encompassing all the set-piece. Jacko has shown he can coach our scrum," says Hanks.

He added that it was nice to be talking about stability in regards to the Blues, now ensconced in a new facility and with a settled head coach and playing roster.

"We haven't won anything yet... but we're ambitious and we aren't going to hide from that," declares Hanks.

White himself is disappointed but philosophical he will not be involved with the Blues in 2017.

"It would have been good to get the job, but in the end doing both jobs sometimes catches up with you," says White. His Auckland predecessor Paul Feeney was not able to continue as Auckland coach when he was signed as Blues assistant for 2016.

"Jacko's got the job and that's great for Jacko. Tana's worked with him before and he's a bloody good coach."

North Harbour will advertise immediately for a new head coach for 2017 and beyond.

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