New coach, assistant, trainer, board, chairman. The offseason broom has swept through the Blues – and more major change could yet come.

Positivity around the Blues has long been in short supply but since NZ Rugby made the drastic decision to step in and regain control, there is a growing sense this troubled franchise may finally get its act together.

Swift and decisive action has been evident in a number of areas after NZ Rugby bought back the 40 per cent private equity stake. The new board seized the reins late last September, and has since met six times in order to grasp problems.

With factions between the private arm and provincial unions removed, the board's first, and most public, step was to overrule Tana Umaga's mid-season reappointment and instil Leon MacDonald head coach.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald. Photo / Photosport
Blues coach Leon MacDonald. Photo / Photosport

The board could have ploughed on as it was, risking another muddled season as the worst New Zealand team. Instead, it opted for change.

MacDonald comes highly-regarded in all quarters and his decision to retain Umaga – the pair having worked together previously with the New Zealand under-20s – as defence coach signals a harmonious group.

After three years in the firing line, Umaga is said to be relaxed and thriving with the pressure off.

Fellow new addition Tom Coventry should add a hard edge to the forward pack, and new trainer Phil Heatley, formerly with Dave Rennie at the Chiefs and Glasgow, is credited with lifting fitness well beyond previous levels.

Efforts have been made to continually improve the relationship between the Blues and Auckland rugby – that rift largely caused by previous clashes between private owner Murray Bolton and former Auckland chief executive Andy Dalton that led to the provincial team being barred from using the Blues' training base.

Assistant coach Tana Umaga. Blues pre season training. Photo / Photosport
Assistant coach Tana Umaga. Blues pre season training. Photo / Photosport

Since the change of ownership the three provincial stakeholders – North Harbour, Auckland and Northland – have met to discuss future pathways, academies, community engagement and development.

This is where the likes of Blues chief executive Michael Redman, and high-performance manager Tony Hanks, face an anxious season with several sources indicating to the Herald the pair may be on borrowed time.

A new board and new chairman, experienced sports governance figure Don Mackinnon, will no doubt attempt to raise standards across the entire organisation.


Redman and Hanks have both been at the Blues five years and must, therefore, accept their share of responsibility for the underwhelming state the franchise finds itself in.

While Redman is considered effective in some areas, and said to have opposed the move with the old board, Umaga was initially reappointed on his watch.

Making the playoffs every year should be a minimum for the Blues but expectations also go much wider, particularly around retention and recruitment.

Relationships with leading Auckland secondary schools - the player base nursery - are sadly lacking. There is much work to do in enhancing the Blues' reputation as a place young talent wants to go first.

Blues CEO Michael Redman could be on his way out. Photo / Photosport
Blues CEO Michael Redman could be on his way out. Photo / Photosport

Building on Auckland's breakthrough provincial success last year by consistently securing the best of the best must now be achieved.

Dealing with previous factions would not have been easy but, with those put to bed, immediate improvements will be expected from Redman and Hanks.

With so many changes in a matter of four months, the Blues now sit in a delicate position but further management changes by the end of the year would not surprise.

Any rebuild takes time, and this year's squad still has limitations. On the back of this significant offseason overhaul, though, there appears reason to believe the Blues can finish this season above at least one other New Zealand team. Progress is important.

MacDonald, perhaps, arrives at the helm one season earlier than projected but his management team seems united and astute.

Off the field, the Blues are finally getting their house in order.

Further changes are likely but, for now, we wait to assess the slow reform of New Zealand Rugby's problem child.