Leon MacDonald and Tom Coventry both applied for Tana Umaga's former head coaching role at the Blues.

Chief executive Michael Redman confirmed today that the role was made contestable and the Herald understands that Coventry also applied for it, but that the board went with the former All Blacks fullback who has made such a fine start to his coaching career.

MacDonald spent last year at the Crusaders – a first title win for him and new head coach Scott Robertson - but otherwise has never coached at this level. It is also understood that he and Coventry applied for the role on the proviso that they would be an assistant should they not get it. There were no external applicants.

For the 40-year-old MacDonald, who played 56 tests including under former skipper Umaga, the proof that he made the right decision in applying for the top job has come from the players who were informed this morning.

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"I'm really relieved about the response from the players; it's been really positive," he told the Herald. "I really just want to get started and get on the grass."

Happily for him, he won't have to start from scratch. With him will be his former teammate Umaga who has decided to stay on as defence coach and assist in any way possible.

"Tana has always been about the team first – it's no different to when he was the captain of the All Blacks when I played underneath him," MacDonald said. "He's never been about himself. It just shows how passionate he is about this team. He's extremely committed to getting this team to the top. It shows the mark of the man. When I spoke to him before I applied for the job I could see his excitement about the role he wanted to do… to hear that and the support he offered made it a no-brainer for me."

Leon MacDonald (L) looks on as Tana Umaga speaks. Photo / Getty
Leon MacDonald (L) looks on as Tana Umaga speaks. Photo / Getty

MacDonald surprised the Crusaders this year when he signed as a Blues assistant, ostensibly underneath Umaga. His original decision to leave the Super Rugby champions to become head coach of the Tasman Mako was based around spending more time with his family, but things change very quickly in this game and the developments over the past 24 hours are another good reminder of that.

The point is, the Blues' first match next season is against the Crusaders at Eden Park, a match-up that could hardly be scripted better. "I'm very excited about the first game," he said. "What a way to start, it's going to be great."

In the team, presumably, will be one Ma'a Nonu, the veteran former All Blacks midfielder returning to the Blues for the third time and with ambitions to make yet another World Cup.

For MacDonald, Nonu's return is highly anticipated.

"I've never coached Ma'a, I played with Ma'a for quite a few years with the All Blacks," he said. "We were good mates as players – and fierce rivals on the field as well. I respect Ma'a enormously, he's a fantastic player and I hear he's in the best nick of his life. He's the type of player this club needs – he'll provide a lot of value on and off the field and coupled with Sonny [Bill Williams] as well, we've got some really experienced and wise heads there.

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"We've got some amazing talent. It's our job now to make the best of that talent and to bring them all together as a team – to gel. It's an exciting challenge and one I'm really looking forward to. That's why I signed with the Blues months ago."