November 15, 2018 / 1:07 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Rugby-Umaga stands down as Blues head coach, MacDonald takes charge

* End of season review lead to changes

* Umaga to concentrate on defence as assistant coach

* MacDonald into first head coaching role at Super level

* (Adds details, quotes)

WELLINGTON, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga has stood down from his head coach role at the Auckland Blues with Leon MacDonald taking the reins at the Super Rugby team.

Umaga will serve as an assistant under MacDonald, the Blues said in a statement on Thursday.

The former test centre had his contract as head coach extended until 2019 in May but an end-of-season review by the Blues resulted in a shakeup of the underperforming team’s coaching setup.

Umaga will take responsibility for defence and has signed a two-year contract in that role.

“After the end of season review I signalled that my passion lies with my new responsibility as defence coach and I believe that is where I can make the greatest contribution and difference at the Blues,” Umaga said in the statement.

“I support the decision to appoint Leon and I believe that the coaching team of Leon, Tom (Coventry) and myself is the best that we could have at the Blues for the 2019 season and beyond.”

MacDonald was an assistant coach at Canterbury Crusaders before quitting last year because he did not want to spend as much time away from his family.

The 40-year-old, however, was announced in May as an assistant for Umaga for next season on a three-year contract.

The 56-test All Black has coached Tasman in New Zealand’s provincial championship but the Blues role is his first as a head coach at Super Rugby level.

Former Waikato Chiefs assistant coach Coventry, who will look after the forwards, was appointed in July to join the coaching group for next season.

The Blues were Super Rugby champions in the first two years of the competition in 1996 and 1997 and again in 2003 but have struggled in recent years under a succession of coaches.

They finished second-to-bottom this year with only four wins, while New Zealand Rugby bought back 40 percent of the ownership of the team from private investors after a review of its governance structure.

Umaga replaced fellow former All Blacks great John Kirwan in the head coach role in 2016 and while they were mid-table in his first two years, they have failed to keep pace with the four other New Zealand teams.

“It’s been a challenging three years for me working for the first time as a Super Rugby head coach,” Umaga added.

“I have learned a lot and I know I still have a lot more to offer. I will be 100 per cent behind helping to implement some of the strategies that we have identified that are still works-in-progress.”

The Blues open their 2019 Super Rugby season against the defending champion Crusaders in Auckland on Feb. 16. (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Toby Davis and Nick Mulvenney)

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