Super Rugby Pacific: Joe Schmidt joins Blues coaching staff in support role to Leon MacDonald

Highly-respected international rugby coach Joe Schmidt has joined the Blues as support for coach Leon MacDonald and his staff.

The former head coach of Ireland will assist MacDonald in a part-time role, after serving as assistant coach at the franchise from 2005-07.

Schmidt has a polished coaching record, winning the Top 14 in France with Clermont Auvergne, and the European Challenge Cup and Heineken Cup with Irish club Leinster, before a successful seven-year tenure with the national side.

"Our strategic plan is clear," says Blues chief executive Andrew Hore. "We need to develop success for today and develop success for tomorrow. 

"In this role, Joe will be able to support Leon and also Craig, as our new defence coach, given Joe's own expertise as a defence coach over many years. It is an ideal blend of youth and experience, and we are rapt to be able to have both join our camp."

MacDonald says Schmidt's addition to the coaching team sees an evolution of his own dialogue and relationship with Schmidt.

"Joe has been mentoring me the last 12 months, which has been incredibly helpful. Having him as part of the coaching team will give us a different voice in the mix, and he can also look at things through a different lens and really challenge us."

Schmidt says the support coach role will see him come full circle in his coaching journey, starting in fully professional rugby with the Blues, after a successful tenure as Bay of Plenty's assistant coach.

"I'm really looking forward to coming back and helping out the coaching staff at the Blues. I know pretty much the whole crew and it's a nice fit stepping in for Tana, whom I greatly respect.

"I have really enjoyed getting to know Leon. He is doing a great job and has got the team in a really good place, after their success this year.

"I've also got a lot of time for Ice [McGrath] and look forward to linking up with him again," says Schmidt.

Joe Schmidt and Steve Hansen
Joe Schmidt and Steve Hansen Photo credit: Getty Images

The Blues have also announced the recruitment of Auckland's defence coach Craig McGrath, who will join the franchise on a full-time basis.

Like Schmidt, McGrath had a stint as a player-coach in Ireland, after playing in Italy, then switched full-time to coaching. 

He was an assistant coach with Melbourne Rebels for four seasons and then with Honda Heat in Japan for three years, joining the Auckland NPC coaching staff with responsibility for defence and skills development in 2020.

"I'm really grateful to the Blues, Auckland and to Leon for this opportunity, and having Joe involved means I get the opportunity to have access to all his experience, especially in defence, and world-class professional development every day," McGrath says.