All Blacks great Kirwan to coach Auckland Blues

17 July 2012 06:16

Former All Blacks great John Kirwan was appointed head coach of the Auckland Blues Tuesday, replacing Pat Lam at the helm of the underperforming Super 15 franchise.

Kirwan, a 63-Test veteran who has also coached Italy and Japan at Rugby World Cups, said he was thrilled to be returning to New Zealand to coach in Auckland, where be began his career.

But the 47-year-old also acknowledged he faced a difficult task in turning around the Blues, who finished 12th on the ladder this year with 12 losses and four wins.

"I'm really excited about connecting with fans and working with the Blues community," he said. "There is certainly some hard work ahead and I am looking forward to the challenge."

Kirwan said he wanted to introduce a new era of "success and innovation" at the Blues, who won the last of their three Super rugby titles in 2003.

They were tipped as contenders at the beginning of the season after finishing fourth last year and adding star players Ma'a Nonu and Piri Weepu to a formidible roster that included Jerome Kaino, Keven Mealamu and Rene Ranger.

Instead, a combination of injuries and uninspired performances cast them in the unaccustomed role of New Zealand Conference's easybeats, leading to calls for Lam's departure.

Kirwan was the unanimous choice of a joint Blues-New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) panel charged with finding Lam's replacement.

Blues chairman Gary Whetton said he hoped Kirwan, who has been signed on a two-year contract for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, could revive the former powerhouse, which has the largest player catchment area in New Zealand.

"It's been a tough season for the Blues -- our supporters expect the team to play winning rugby, as we all do," he said.

"The challenge is clearly laid down for John and we look forward to seeing positive results."

Kirwan, a World Cup winner with New Zealand in 1987, coached Italy from 2002-05 and Japan from 2007-11, introducing an attractive running game to the Brave Blossoms.

However, it failed to translate into wins for Japan at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, prompting his departure at the end of last year's tournament in New Zealand.

He was awarded a knighthood last month for services to rugby and his advocacy for sufferers of depression, a cause he took up after detailing his own battle the illness in the book "All Blacks Don't Cry".