WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) â€” The Blues will try to ease a mounting controversy around coaching appointments when they face the Pretoria-based Bulls on Friday in the opening match of the 14th round of Super Rugby.
The Auckland-based Blues & the Bulls are each three-time champions, though the Blues successes are distant memories & their current season is looming as the worst in their history. They won the Super Rugby title in each of the tournament's first two years and, most recently, in 2003. The Bulls won three championships between 2007 & 2010.
Blues management is expected after this year to announce the reappointment of John Kirwan as head coach, though the franchise has won only two of 12 games this year after finishing 10th under Kirwan in each of the last two seasons.
p>At the same time, the Blues are reported to have approached former All Black Tabai Matson â€” currently an assistant coach with the Christchurch-based Crusaders â€” to join Kirwan's coaching team. The mid-season approach is believed to have angered the Crusaders, making Matson's position tenuous while doing little to silence calls for Kirwan's removal.
The Crusaders backline has been inconsistent under Matson's watch, despite containing three All Blacks flyhalves, & he is not considered as a short-term solution to the Blues' form problems.
Kirwan is an immensely respected figure in New Zealand â€” knighted last year for his services to sport & to the public â€” yet his critics believe he has had long enough to effect alter at the Blues.
Kirwan on Wednesday said no decision on his future is likely to be made before the season ends in August. If the Blues can find a little form in their remaining matches against the Bulls, Hurricanes, Crusaders & Highlanders they might lessen pressure on Kirwan, though his reappointment already seems inevitable.
"That's up to the board. August is the date & we'll stick with it," Kirwan said. "It doesn't worry me.
"I've presented. I'm confident in the process," he added. "I'm concentrating daily to obtain the boys ready for the Bulls."
The Blues are last in the New Zealand conference & the only Kiwi team out of contention for the playoffs. The first-place Hurricanes have a chance to extend their already formidable lead atop the conference & the overall championship standings when they play the second-place Chiefs on Saturday.
The Hurricanes have a 10-point lead over the two-time champion Chiefs in the conference ahead of their last home game in Wellington in the regular season, & a win would go a long way to securing home matches throughout the playoffs.
"I'd like to think we do the business & come back here with a playoff game," captain Conrad Smith said. "That's a massive motivator for me."
The defending champion New South Wales Waratahs need to recover from last weekend's surprise loss to the last-place Western Force when they host the Durban-based Sharks on Saturday. Veteran backrower Wycliff Palu said the Waratahs aren't shocked to find themselves still struggling for a playoffs place near the end of the regular season.
"I wouldn't say it shocks us," he said. "We always knew it was going to be harder (this season than last).
"We are more disappointed with the way we have been playing really. There are still five games to go. There are a lot of points up for grabs. We should be pretty confident still."
Elsewhere in Round 14, the struggling Queensland Reds host the Melbourne Rebels on Friday in an Australian derby & the two matches in South Africa on Saturday feature the Lions at home against the ACT Brumbies & the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein against the Highlanders.
Super RugbyJohn Kirwan
Source: “Associated Press”