Former All Blacks winger and Italy and Japan rugby coach John Kirwan has been appointed head coach of the Auckland Blues Super 15 team, replacing Pat Lam who has been sacked after four years.
The 47-year-old Kirwan will take over the role next month on a two-year deal which covers the 2013 and 2014 seasons in the Southern Hemisphere competition.
Kirwan, who played 142 games for Auckland province and 96 for the All Blacks, including 63 tests, said he was honoured to lead the Blues “in what I hope will be a new era of success and innovation”.
“I’m also thrilled about coming back to New Zealand and home to Auckland after several years overseas,” he said. Kirwan was briefly Blues assistant coach in 2001. He went on to coach Italy from 2002 to 2005 and Japan from 2007 to 2011.
Kirwan received a New Zealand knighthood earlier this year, in a civil honours list marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, for his services to sport and mental health. After suffering from depression throughout his adult life, Kirwan fronted a high profile and successful advertising campaign encouraging others to seek treatment.
Blues chairman Gary Whetton, a former All Blacks lock and international contemporary of Kirwan, said the expectations of the new coach were significant. “It’s been a tough season for the Blues,” Whetton said. “Our supporters expect the team to play winning rugby, as we all do.
“The challenge is clearly laid down for John and we look forward to seeing positive results. While there’s no denying John has a stellar playing record in New Zealand, our interest was in finding the right coach for the Blues – someone who could coach this team to success and we’ve selected John to do that.”
Whetton expressed sympathy for Lam, who was a successful coach of Auckland province between 2004 and 2008 before taking over the Blues.
He coached the team to the semi-finals of last year’s Super 15 but The Blues won only four of 16 regular season matches this season, finishing 12th out of 15 teams.
“We know this is a difficult time for Pat who has been a long and loyal servant to Auckland Rugby and the Blues, and we thank him for all he has given to both,” Whetton said.
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