Colin Cooper has called time on his four-year tenure as New Zealand Maori coach with a heavy heart. Partly because it ended in frustrating fashion with a disappointing defeat to the British and Irish Lions, but also because the brief carried personal meaning, and helped him reconnect with his roots.

With Taranaki's provincial campaign looming, and his role as incoming Chiefs coach fast approaching, Cooper had no choice but to pass the Maori baton with another end of season tour expected to be announced soon.

"It was a tough decision," Cooper said. "I enjoyed the team, the management and the culture side was really good for me personally. We worked hard to continue to look after the legacy of the Maori."

Cooper's record as Maori mentor finished with seven wins and three losses; the final defeat coming on a wet and miserable night for locals in Rotorua last month.


"It was disappointing with the preparation for the Lions. We probably didn't respect the Lions - not just the Maori team but all New Zealand. They were the second best team in the world and our preparation to take on a team like that needs to be thought about and worked better.

"It's very hard with the way the calendar is. Back in 2005, when we defeated the Lions, they had a better preparation but it was only Super 12 then compared to the cluttered schedule now. That was the challenge, basically only having one training and a captain's run with the group that started.

"The conditions suited them and they should have scored three or four more tries. That was the disappointment of my time with the Maori but there were so many positives, not just results. Watching men become All Blacks and better people."

During his time Cooper drove a high performance environment, closely aligning the Maori with the five Super Rugby franchises and All Blacks. Under his watch, 10 Maori players progressed to the All Blacks - 18 bounced between the two teams at various times.

"That's the pathway I wanted to go down. It was easy for the support not to be with the team because guys needed operations or rest so it was important to send a message to the Super Rugby teams that it was a high performance team and hopefully their players would come back better for the experience.

"It was a challenge, getting a team ready in a week straight after a Super competition or provincial season. It wasn't easy to get them motivated and ready but the culture side really helped."

Like many, Cooper's wish for the Maori is for more high profile fixtures against tier one nations. Other than the Lions, Cooper's tenure featured games against Fiji, USA, Canada, Japan and two under-strength UK club teams.

"If they could play Australia it would be huge in terms of all the ex-pats. We got support wherever we went. It's important the Maori continue to play well, get those tours and if they can put some real planning behind the schedule make sure they get the big games also."


At first glance Cooper's assistants, Crusaders backs coach Leon MacDonald and Blues head honcho Tana Umaga, seem logical successors. But given the demands on those coaches at Super Rugby, a provincial candidate is more likely.

"There's a lot of people who could do the job it's just a matter of them wanting it and having the time. When you're Super coaching it's very hard to do both. That's why I didn't do it when I was with the Hurricanes."

Cooper's record as Maori coach from 2013 to 2017:
Canada 40-15
USA 29-19
Japan 61-21
Japan 20-18
Fiji 27-26
USA 54-7
Harlequins 26-10

NZ Barbarians 34-17
Munster 27-14
Lions 32-10