Report: Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua luckless in their pursuit of ex-Ireland boss Joe Schmidt
According to a report from Stuff, the two Pacific Island franchises targeted Schmidt as a potential head coach after they were granted conditional licences to join next year’s revamped Super Rugby competition in April.
Had either Moana Pasifika or the Fijian Drua landed the signature of the 55-year-old, it would have been a bold acquisition for the new clubs given how well-regarded the Kiwi coach is within the rugby fraternity.
Under Schmidt’s stewardship between 2013 and 2019, Ireland won three Six Nations titles, including a Grand Slam in 2018. He also led the Celtic nation to their only two victories over the All Blacks in 2016 and 2018.
Prior to his spell with the Irish national side, Schmidt guided Leinster to two European Champions Cups, a European Challenge Cup and a PRO14 title between 2010 and 2013. He also enjoyed stints as assistant coach of Bay of Plenty, the Blues and Clermont.
With such vast experience and wealth of knowledge, Schmidt was reportedly lined up by Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua to take over as head coach of either team’s inaugural campaign next season.
However, the veteran coach has reportedly held firm on his stance that he would spend time away from coaching following Ireland’s 2019 World Cup quarter-final exit to spend time with family.
Schmidt also has does some consultancy work for World Rugby, and that, combined with his priority to commit himself to his family, has ruled him out of the running to join Moana Pasifika or the Fijian Drua.
It means both franchises will continue their search for a head coach, a position of which both sides are eager to be filled by a headline name.
The two franchises have recently advertised the head coach role, with Moana Pasifika’s job description calling for applicants who have “5 years plus coaching experience at International, Super Rugby, English Premiership, Pro 14, Top 14 or Top League level” and possess a “high level of cultural awareness and capability to adapt to a unique environment”.
That’s led to speculation that the likes of former All Blacks head coach Sir Steve Hansen, ex-Highlanders boss Aaron Mauger, Blues assistant coach Tana Umaga and New Zealand U20 boss Tabai Matson could all in the running for those roles.
With decades of first-class coaching experience behind him, Hansen would be a monumental signing for either club.
Western Force coach Tim Sampson says a 25-15 loss to the Highlanders was the reality check his team needed ahead of their three-match swing in New Zealand. #SuperRugbyTT #FORvHIG https://t.co/pyqnFPH7pN
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 22, 2021
The mastermind behind the All Blacks’ 2015 World Cup success, the 62-year-old was also part of the New Zealand coaching staff that claimed the 2011 World Cup and has previously spent time with Wales, the Crusaders and Canterbury.
Hansen, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches of all-time, is also an honorary high chief of the Samoan village of Vaiala.
That makes him an ideal candidate to win the Moana Pasifika head coach job given his exemplary coaching record and cultural ties to Samoa.
However, with advisory roles at both Toyota Verblitz in the Top League and the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in the NRL, Hansen’s commitments elsewhere may make him unavailable for further coaching positions.
Mauger, meanwhile, has Cook Island and Samoan heritage and has previously acted as an assistant coach to both Samoa in 2017 and Moana Pasifika in their first-ever match against the Maori All Blacks last year.
The former All Blacks midfielder has also held coaching roles with the Crusaders, Leicester Tigers and Highlanders, and is currently coaching the John McGlashan College First XV in Dunedin.
“I think this is the most games that the Manu Samoa have played in the mid-year window for a very long time. The window’s only three weeks long and we’ve managed to get four games.”
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) May 22, 2021
While a move to Moana Pasifika or the Fijian Drua could be his springboard back into professional coaching, the 40-year-old told Stuff last month that he hadn’t applied to join either franchise “at that stage”.
Umaga, Mauger’s former All Blacks teammate, would also fit the bill as head coach of Moana Pasifika, who he served as head coach last year.
The first-ever All Blacks captain of Pasifika descent, the 47-year-old has coaching experience with Toulon, Counties Manukau, the Blues and the New Zealand U20 side, but told Stuff last year that he was happy in his current role as Blues assistant coach.
Matson, who played test rugby for both the All Blacks and Fiji between 1995 and 1999, also stands as a strong candidate to join Moana Pasifika or the Fijian Drua given his coaching pedigree and cultural background.
Born in Fiji, the 48-year-old has first-class coaching experience with Yamaha Jubilo, Canterbury, the Crusaders, Fiji, Bath and the Chiefs.
Now the head coach of the New Zealand U20 side, Matson looms as a well-equipped contender to land a role with either franchise, but only time will tell if he, or any of the aforementioned names, will lead Moana Pasifika or the Fijian Drua in their maiden campaigns.
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