Super Rugby: Leon MacDonald replaces Tana Umaga as Blues head coach

tana umaga
Former Blues head coach Tana Umaga. Photo credit: Photosport

Blues rugby coach Tana Umaga has lost his role at the helm of the Super Rugby team, replaced by former Tasman Mako coach Leon MacDonald.

The former All Blacks teammates were due to guide the Auckland-based side through the 2019 competition, but with Umaga in the head coaching job he has held for two years and MacDonald as his assistant.

That pecking order has been flipped on its head, with the announcement that MacDonald will take the top job and Umaga effectively demoted to assistant coach responsible for defence.

MacDonald also has Tom Coventry as forwards coach, and Daniel Halangahu as skills and backs coach.

Umaga was previously contracted as head coach through next season, but a review of the Blues 2018 campaign has prompted a shuffling of roles.

"After the end-of-season review, I signalled that my passion lies with my new responsibility as defence coach," says Umaga, 45. 

"I believe that is where I can make the greatest contribution and difference at the Blues."

MacDonald played 56 tests for the All Blacks, mostly at fullback, and has helped elevate Tasman among the country's top provincial sides. He was previously an assistant coach at the Crusaders.

When he signed with the Blues earlier this year, many saw him as a logical replacement for Umaga, if the former All Blacks captain was unable to turn their fortunes around. The latest season review seems to have fast-tracked that scenario.

leon macdonald
Leon MacDonald announced as Blues assistant in May. Photo credit: Photosport

"I am highly motivated to help with the Blues' vision for success," says MacDonald, 40. "I decided to move to the Blues to work with Tana and with Tom Coventry, and nothing has changed in that respect.

"This opportunity has arisen and I am honoured to have been considered for the role."

MacDonald becomes the franchise's 10th head coach since professional rugby began in 1996. The Blues won the first two seasons of the competition and lost to the Crusaders in the third, all under Sir Graham Henry.

They won again in 2003 under Peter Sloane, but haven't reached the post-season since 2011.

"We have said previously that starting from scratch every time we are under pressure has not served the Blues well in the past," says chief executive Michael Redman.

"This is arguably the most challenging of the Super Rugby teams and currently the most challenging environment, at least in New Zealand.

"Tana has a tremendous amount to contribute on the grass and he has learned a lot about this team. He can simply apply this experience in his new role, which will greatly assist Leon as new head coach.

"We are aware that this timing is not ideal, but that was for good reason. That said, I want to publicly acknowledge everyone's willingness to embrace change and for their commitment to our club."