Three weeks after finishing with the All Blacks, a high-profile coach has landed a new role with the Blues.
He is the first of the departing All Blacks coaching team - Ian Foster, Joe Schmidt and Scott McLeod being the others - to officially move on following the agonising one-point Rugby World Cup final defeat to the Springboks in Paris late last month.
Greg Feek joined Foster’s coaching team in 2020 and after a tumultuous two-and-a-half-year period, he played an influential role in reforming the All Blacks scrum - alongside forwards coach Jason Ryan - to usher through the next propping generation that includes Tyrel Lomax, Ethan de Groot, Fletcher Newell and Tamaiti Williams.
Reflecting on the World Cup campaign, Feek holds mixed emotions.
“There’s still a big part of me that’s gutted but part that’s proud of how we went, how we held ourselves and how the boys performed,” Feek told the Herald. “Between those I can have a reasonable summer but there’s always going to be that little feeling of coming so close and that will never go away - the fact we didn’t quite win it. There will be a number of guys feeling like that.”
Feek’s four years with the All Blacks was a rollercoaster ride like no other, that concluded with the ultimate prize just out of reach.
“How you finish is the key part. My job description was to try and find the next crew and develop that and to have the All Blacks, in the area I was in charge, back right up there in terms of being world-class. It was definitely challenging to start with but it always is,” Feek says.
“I feel very privileged and honoured to have had that time. Not many people have stood in front of the All Blacks forward pack and set a plan up. That’s something I’ll always be proud of. I’ve learnt a lot from it as a coach so I’m keen to keep going. I almost feel like I’m just starting.”
Retaining Feek’s experience, that includes a decade on the test scene with Ireland, where he worked under Schmidt from 2014-19, and the All Blacks, is a win for New Zealand Rugby (NZR).
While Feek will join the revamped Blues coaching team - working with new head coach Vern Cotter and incoming attack coach Jason O’Halloran - he has signed a fresh contract with NZR, instigated by general manager Chris Lendrum, that features a yet-to-be-determined wider brief expected to extend to assisting other national teams.
The Blues have lost veteran tighthead Nepo Laulala to French club Toulouse and four-test prop Alex Hodgman to the Reds, but with All Blacks servant Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Angus Ta’avao recruited from the Chiefs, they boast two experienced figures for next season. Feek’s true value will come in developing the next tier of Blues props that includes Josh Fusitua, Jordan Lay, Marcel Renata and P.J. Sheck.
Feek’s scrum coaching role with the Blues allows him to blend the best of both worlds by commuting from Christchurch while overseeing his 15- and 17-year-old son’s transitions through Christchurch Boys’ High.
“After the World Cup,I’m feeling buzzed about that and motivated to carry on coaching,” Feek said. “Like most coaches and players, you want to keep getting better. Part of it is a family decision as well to stick around a bit longer for schooling. That’s the plan at the moment.
“As a coach, it’s tough to stay in the game professionally. The Blues are a team that’s always up there and I know most of the coaches so I’m excited by the challenge - and working with a different stage of where players are at.
“I’ve been coaching internationally for 13 years now so it’s a good chance to get into Super. All I’ve ever done is develop guys into international players so I won’t stop that. It’s exciting to have some influence and maybe help some careers.”
Alongside his 10 tests for the All Blacks, Feek played eight seasons for the Crusaders - winning four titles - but he has no qualms switching allegiance to the Blues.
“I didn’t really think about the loyalties to teams because my loyalty is to my family and my other loyalty is to coaching. I love being around people and in teams. It gives you purpose. I couldn’t see myself sitting around for too long wondering what I’m going to do next. Coaching gets the juices flowing, it gets you up in the morning. It keeps you challenged. Joining the Blues is great to kick straight into.”
Feek starts with the Blues this Thursday to complete a new coaching era at the franchise after Leon MacDonald’s elevation to join Scott Robertson’s All Blacks team.