Appointing Leon MacDonald as head coach of the Blues for the next three years makes sense on just about every level.

It's a testament too to Tana Umaga's ability to put the team and franchise before himself.

That's a non-negotiable for professional sports teams, and here he is living it. For that, the former head coach and now new defence coach should be given a lot of respect and praise.


Clearly, this year's post-season review from the players wasn't too kind on him.

This was his third season at the below-performing franchise and he was in the odd position of having his contract as head coach extended for one year knowing that anything less than a playoff place next year would have seen him sacked and that his replacement would have been either MacDonald or the Blues' other main assistant coach Tom Coventry, both of whom have been appointed for the next three years.

Umaga probably took a bit of heat from the players and clearly, he has recognised that he deserved it and has come to a similar conclusion.

If he hadn't he would have left the franchise because the alternative - him staying and unhappy at the demotion - would have been untenable.

If Alama Ieremia proved anything this year in taking Auckland to a Mitre 10 Cup premiership triumph it's that teams can be turned around quickly if everyone buys into it and if there is the right coaching group leading it.

Significantly, Ieremia's assistant on defence, Sir Graham Henry, made a huge impact.

The Blues, who haven't made the Super Rugby playoffs since 2011, are in need of a similar rescue mission and MacDonald and Coventry have a three-year mandate to make the required changes.

Tana Umaga has stood down as Blues head coach. Photo / Photosport
Tana Umaga has stood down as Blues head coach. Photo / Photosport

Umaga has signed for two years.


Umaga had his three years in charge and it didn't work; the Blues have finished last in the New Zealand conference every season under his tenure, but he's perhaps been a little unlucky in that his assistants Steve Jackson and Al Rogers were relatively inexperienced.

The MacDonald-Coventry double-act, with Umaga helping, appears to be a far more high-powered set-up.

MacDonald, known for his organised approach and assertiveness, today made mention of the uniqueness of a former head coach staying within a franchise in a different role and it's difficult to remember a similar arrangement.

Umaga, who has previously coached alongside MacDonald at New Zealand Under-20s level, now has certainty in terms of what he'll be doing for the next two years and that in itself will ease the pressure on him. He looked as happy and relaxed today at the announcement as he has ever has during his team with the Blues.

"Certainty about where you are going to be for the next couple of years is always good," he told the Herald. "I know my wife is very happy about that.

"You think what's best for the team and what does it really need? I think that's a new voice and new messages, but also there's a bit of continuity and not everything is thrown out. We're not starting again. From my point of view, I've got that much resepect for Leon and Tom and [skills and backs assistant] Dan [Halangahu] as coaches.

"I know what sort of pressure head coaches can be under and hopefully how to take that away. Leon has been really good at saying what sort of assistance he'll be looking for."