Former All Black John Kirwan has been handed one of rugby’s toughest challenges, turning around the ailing Blues Super Rugby franchise.
After leading the side to only four wins in this year’s competition, Pat Lam lost his job, with the 1987 World Cup winner Kirwan taking his place in the coaching box.
Kirwan was involved with the Blues in an assistant role 11 years ago, and has since gone on to coach Italy and Japan at international level.
Blues chairman Gary Whetton dismissed concerns that Kirwan had limited coaching experience in the New Zealand rugby scene, given the 67-test wing was last involved with the Blues 11 years ago.
“It was an issue but not a major one,” Whetton told Fairfax NZ.
The five-man selection panel, which included World-Cup winning coach Graham Henry, felt Kirwan was the best of the three candidates – former Taranaki and Canada coach Kieran Crowley applying alongside Lam – to restore faith and deliver results.
“John had done his homework. He is fresh blood. He came with new ideas, new thoughts about selection. He’s had success in the region as a player and overseas as a coach,” Whetton said.
Kirwan’s two-year tenure started with promises of progress in the next 18 months and faith in local talent from New Zealand’s largest catchment.
He was also realistic about the major issue with development structures and recruitment at the franchise.
“I’m not sitting here saying I’ve got all the answers, but if you’ve got an open mind and are prepared for change then that’s hopefully what you will see,” Kirwan said.
“I’m going to get all the help I can. I’ve been out of the Super 15 scene since 2002. There’s plenty of people in the region that know the tournament. I’ll make sure that planning is done properly.”
He would call on close friend and former All Blacks coach John Hart for advice, and it was believed former All Blacks skills coach Mick Byrne would have a role in his set-up.