Tana Umaga will have his Blues head coach contract renewed this year – that much is almost certain – and the franchise should announce it sooner rather than later.

The former All Blacks captain has shown in his first Super Rugby role that he has what it takes, and while his players are likely to have been told Umaga is staying beyond 2018, an official announcement will give them and the franchise's supporters clarity and reassurance.

The relationship with his players is especially important in terms of retention and Umaga has done well here and also in recruitment. He missed out on Beauden Barrett but attracting Sonny Bill Williams from the Chiefs was a coup.

The Blues have made progress under Umaga. The frustrating consistency remains but an 11th placing in his first season and 9th last year, including a memorable victory over the British & Irish Lions, means he will get a chance to build on his momentum.


It will be a deserved contract extension. After the Pat Lam and John Kirwan years, Umaga has brought stability and organisation to a franchise crying out for both and the Blues board can take a lesson from the Lam situation, in particular.

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Lam was told near the end of the 2012 season that his contract would not be renewed and the board had little time to search for a successor. In the end they went for Kirwan, a former All Black great who coached Italy and Japan but who struggled to get his message across at the Blues.

Kirwan initially signed a two-year deal which was extended for another season early in 2015. It would be surprising if Umaga signed only a one-year extension – at least another two years would be more appropriate for a man ready to dig in for the long haul.

A more prosaic reason that Umaga will stay is the fact that there are few alternatives and it's here that timing is on his side. There are some well-known Kiwis abroad who could suit as alternatives but Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, a former Blues assistant, doesn't come off contract until after next year's World Cup and neither does Wales coach Warren Gatland.

There is another reason why chief executive Michael Redman should announce the board's decision to retain Umaga as soon as possible; another tough start to the season in terms of the draw.

The Blues' first match is against the Highlanders in Dunedin in a fortnight, followed by a home match against the Chiefs and a tough trip to South Africa to play the Lions and Stormers.

Better, surely, to trumpet his retention now while the season is alive with possibility rather than after the team are conceivably 0-2 or even 0-4 down.


There is another interesting aspect to this season for Umaga. He is set to be more hands-off on the training pitch this year as he tries a more "director of rugby" role rather than a pure head coach role.

The newly arrived Ben Afeaki will be trusted with the scrum, with Steve Jackson again in charge of the forwards and Alistair Rogers the team's defence. Potentially the big change will centre on the team's attack, with former skills coach Dave Ellis taking over the role from Umaga.

The big question is; when the tough times come this season, as they inevitably will, can Umaga resist the temptation to get more involved?

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