May 16, 2018 / 2:42 AM / 6 months ago

Struggling Blues give Umaga another year

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Auckland Blues coach Tana Umaga has been given another year to turn the struggling Super Rugby team around, signing a contract extension that will keep him in charge until the end of the 2019 season.

The former All Blacks captain has been unable to improve the Blues’ fortunes since coming on board in 2016 and they remain tethered to the bottom of the New Zealand conference, with three wins from 11 matches this season.

Blues CEO Michael Redman said the team’s board was not satisfied with current performances but did not believe the answer was a new head coach.

“The Board believes there are positive improvements taking place at all levels at the club, and that Tana still has a contribution to make,” Redman said in a team release on Wednesday.

“Changing head coach now would mean we throw out three years of hard-earned experience and starting again which we believe is the wrong thing to do.

“At the same time, the expected shifts in on-field performance are yet to be achieved and we are examining every aspect of team selection, preparation and support as our fans would expect.

“The players support Tana’s plan and we feel we are close to unlocking the true potential of this group.”

While Umaga has been retained, he will have a new assistant coach in former All Blacks flyhalf Leon McDonald for the 2019 season.

The pair previously combined to coach New Zealand’s under-20 team to the World Championship in 2015.

MacDonald, a former assistant coach at the Canterbury Crusaders, was capped 56 times for the All Blacks from 2000-08 and is currently head coach of provincial side Tasman Mako.

“We really gelled together with the successful Under 20s team and he has a fantastic coaching record already,” Umaga said of McDonald. “I am sure he is going to bring a lot to this club going forward.

“We are in the results business,” he added.

“Believe me, no one at the Blues right now is happy with where we are at, but everyone has bought in to our plan, believes in it and works so hard every day to perform.”

The Blues, three-times champions in the competition’s first decade, have fallen on hard times and have not made the playoffs since 2011 under Pat Lam, John Kirwan and now Umaga.

With only 17 points this season, 14 behind the fourth-placed Auckland Chiefs in New Zealand, they are all but out of the playoffs already.

Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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