Coventry to join Blues?

Tom Coventry. Photo: Getty Images
Tom Coventry. Photo: Getty Images
Tom Coventry is the preferred candidate to be the new forwards coach of the Blues.

That means head coach Tana Umaga will probably have a different set of assistants from next season.

The New Zealand Herald understands Coventry, who left London Irish after only one season in 2016 and last year coached North Harbour to a semifinal of the Mitre 10 Cup (they lost to eventual champions Canterbury) could replace former Harbour coach Steve Jackson as the man in charge of the pack.

There have apparently been several high-quality candidates for Jackson's role, and the Blues will want to officially announce their new coaching line-up sooner rather than later given the clarity will help with player recruitment. Their final match of the season is against the Crusaders on Saturday.

Former Crusaders assistant Leon MacDonald has already been announced as the Blues' new attack coach, and, with current defence coach Alistair Rogers likely to look for opportunities elsewhere, Umaga will probably take the defence role. It is also likely the Blues will look for a new skills coach.

The Blues have regressed this year, Umaga's third as head coach, and the expected big changes come as little surprise. The former All Blacks captain was this year retained for another season and his future from next year is dependent on results – almost certainly a quarterfinal at least in 2019 – and so he and the entire franchise will hope Coventry and MacDonald quickly find their feet should the former sign on.

The pair would add much-needed new voices to a team who are running short of confidence and structure; their 42-24 defeat to the Hurricanes in Wellington last weekend encapsulated their issues – an over-reliance on Rieko Ioane and a porous defence which has leaked 58 tries at an average of nearly four a game.

They will once again finish the season as the worst New Zealand side in the competition; the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders will all take part in the playoffs, but the Blues, 14th of 15 teams, waved goodbye to their finals chances months ago. They won only one game at home this year and haven't beaten a New Zealand team since their first competition game of 2016 when they beat the Highlanders 33-31 at Eden Park.

Their last Super Rugby title was in 2003 which was also the last time they made the grand final.

They have again been unlucky with injuries this season, with second-five Sonny Bill Williams blighted by wrist, knee and shoulder injuries and lock Patrick Tuipulotu hampered by a shoulder problem, but they have players, especially in their backline, to do far better.

An improvement in the pack's performance, especially with regards to clearing quicker ball from the breakdown, would help strike weapons such as Rieko Ioane, Melani Nanai and Matt Duffie significantly.

Things didn't go to plan in London for Coventry – his Irish side were relegated from the premiership – but he is highly thought of in New Zealand Rugby circles and the national organisation will be aware of the difficulties the Blues, with only four wins this season and little chance of beating the defending champion Crusaders in Christchurch, are going through.

Coventry, a former Waikato loose forward, won two Super Rugby titles during his five years as assistant coach under Dave Rennie and his Harbour team lost only twice in 10 round-robin games last year.

He is regarded as an affable character but possesses a hard edge which many believe the Blues require more of.

Another factor in Coventry's possible capture by the Blues is that the franchise would have two clear alternatives for head coach should Umaga not be retained next year, with either Coventry or MacDonald hot favourites to get the top job.

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