It's maybe not the coaching dream team but the Blues have put in place the foundations to dramatically improve in 2019 by bringing in Leon MacDonald to work with incumbent Tana Umaga.

MacDonald, a former All Blacks teammate of Umaga's, is bringing not only significant coaching experience, confidence and ability, he's bringing an attention to detail that may currently be missing from the Blues.

What he's also bringing, perhaps, is a new lease of life for Umaga who may thrive by having a trusted, skilled, like-minded figure beside him.

Since Umaga came into the job in 2016 he's worked with a relatively inexperienced coaching group in that none have had much, if any, exposure to Super Rugby.


MacDonald, while not being able to claim extensive Super Rugby experience, is at least familiar with it having been with the Crusaders last year as their attack coach.

After years of attacking by shuffling across the field, the Crusaders were transformed under MacDonald who turned their shoulders towards the posts and had them running north to south.

The Crusaders won their eighth title and they did so on the back of their prolific try scoring which is largely what the Blues are hoping MacDonald is going to do for them.

The option was there for MacDonald to stay with the Crusaders but he decided his family, with four children, had to come first and he shifted back to Blenheim instead.

But with MacDonald and his wife now confident their children are at a less vulnerable age in regard to their schooling, the temptation of shifting to Auckland on a three-year deal was too hard to resist.

If that seems hard to understand – giving up the comfort of the Crusaders for the
uncertain Blues – it made sense to MacDonald who was lured by the enormity of the task he faces and the potential he sees within the region.

"It has been a big decision for our family to make the decision to move to Auckland," he said.

"I just see a massive opportunity. I see a club that is doing everything it can to get things right. Everyone can see there is talent within the group and there are good young players. I am at the point of my career where I really want to challenge myself and this is a good opportunity.


"The fact that players are signing on for three years tells me that they are passionate about this place and that they want to be here. There are good things happening.

"I played against them [the Blues] and the Crusaders against the Blues games were legendary. The Blues teams that we encountered were abrasive, physical and nearly impossible to beat at home.

"I have seen what the Blues can be like and so to be sitting here is a little surreal but it only takes one day to become passionate about your team."

Blues chief executive Michael Redman made it clear that neither the board nor New Zealand Rugby thought dispensing with Umaga was the right call.

His knowledge of the players, the region and the club are extensive and to have thrown it all away would have seen the Blues resort to a new coach coming in at starting at square one again.

However, the decision to only extend Umaga's contract one year was reflective of the need for results to be delivered next year as for all the positives around player retention and better culture having been instilled, the Blues have only won three games this year and are all but out of the playoff race.

"I feel fortunate to have been given the opportunity," said Umaga. "I understand that on face value right now it is probably not something which is seen as the most deserving.

"I think everyone in an employment contract would like longer than they have. This is a results-driven industry that we are in let's not get away from that and face value, we are not where we want to be.

"I want to show I have the ability to take the club to where I want it to be."

No doubt that MacDonald's agreement to shift north helped Umaga gain his extra year as the these two are, realistically, the best combination the club could have mustered given that the super heavyweight contenders – the likes of Joe Schmidt, Warren Gatland and Vern Cotter – are tied into their current roles until at least the end of 2019.

With MacDonald locked in for three and Umaga just one, the contingency plan if everything doesn't go to plan is to presumably promote the former.

But no one is thinking that far ahead.

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