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Super Rugby Aupiki coaches confirmed for 2024 season

By Ned Lester
Whitney Hansen delivers instructions for the Matatu team. Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images

Some new faces will lead Super Rugby Aupiki teams in 2024, as various movements reshape the coaching landscape in the penultimate season before 2025’s Rugby World Cup.

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The ever-expanding Aupiki competition will feature in its longest format to date in 2024, with two preseason games followed by six weeks of round-robin action culminating in a final.

The squads have been expanded by two players each to now offer teams 30 roster spots while the minimum pay of contracted players has doubled.

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Marlie Packer reacts to winning WXV1 and World Player of the Year

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Marlie Packer reacts to winning WXV1 and World Player of the Year

The two Super Rugby competitions from either side of the Tasman are yet to merge but New Zealand Rugby General Manager Professional Rugby and Performance Chris Lendrum revealed the potential of a first step in that direction could take place in the 2024 preseason.

“There remains potential in the future to combine in some way with Super W in Australia and that will continue to be explored. In the short term, we are hopeful we will arrange some preseason fixtures with our trans-Tasman rivals.”

Those details are yet to be revealed and so too are the Aupiki 2024 squads. The coaches however are locked and loaded for the respective campaigns.

Matatu

Rugby royalty flows through the blood of incoming Matatu head coach Whitney Hansen, who is promoted to the top job in 2024 after acting as assistant in this year’s title-winning effort as well as 2022’s debut season.

Hansen takes over from Blair Baxter, who has accepted a role with China Women’s 7’s side as Assistant Coach, as they seek qualification for the 2024 Olympics.

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The daughter of former All Black head coach Steve Hansen, Whitney was an assistant under Sir Wayne Smith in last year’s Rugby World Cup-winning Black Ferns campaign. She also coached the Black Ferns XV in the team’s debut match against Samoa this year.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to continue Matatu’s journey, to build on the foundation we have, and support our people to be the best they can be,” she said in a statement.

“We’re underpinned by our commitment to high work ethic, strong connections, and a dedication to adding positively to a growing legacy.

“There will always be things year on year we look at doing differently, but in large part we will continue to look deeply at how we can keep getting better as a group and as individuals.”

Matatu general manager Sarah Munro labelled Hansen “a natural leader who challenges the norm to grow the wahine (women’s)  game and lives our Matatutanga (values) every day”.

One of Matatu’s 2023 assistants, Tony Christie, landed a role with the Black Ferns under Allan Bunting’s new staff while another, Dan Cron was an assistant with Tonga at the recent men’s Rugby World Cup in France.

Hurricanes Poua

Victoria Grant will be absent from the Hurricanes Poua’s 2024 Super Rugby Aupiki campaign as she welcomes the birth of her second child.

The former Black Ferns captain will return as head coach in 2025, and fulfil the role of director of rugby in the meantime.

Ngatai Walker will assume the head coaching role for 2024, becoming the third coach in as many years for the Wellington team after stints with the Taranaki development side and Maori U18s. Former Black Ferns Melodie Bosman and Emma Jensen will join him in the coach’s box.

Ngatai, a lifelong Hurricanes fan, said landing the role was a “huge honour”.

“The Hurricanes region is my whakapapa,” he said. “Some of my earliest memories of going to rugby games are with my family at Athletic Park and Sky Stadium as we have been season ticket holders with the Hurricanes from the beginning.

“Now, to be able to build off the foundational work that Victoria and the team have put in over the first two years of Aupiki is exciting and humbling.”

The 44-year-old enters the role with a glowing endorsement from Grant.

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“I’m definitely going to miss our people the most and not being a part of the daily hustle and bustle of the team environment. I’m looking forward to the birth of our second child and having the space to enjoy the first few months with baby,” she said.

“My focus this season will then eventually shift to a bird’s eye view as director of rugby. I am grateful that I will still be able to contribute to the growth in our team through continuing to build on the foundations that have been set over the past two years.”

Blues

The Auckland side are running it back in 2024, with the club announcing no changes from their 2023 campaign’s coaching staff.

Head Coach Willie Walker, who guided Auckland to Farah Palmer Cup glory earlier in the year, will once more enjoy the assistance of Linda Itunu, Carlos Spencer and Census Johnston.

“We didn’t quite get the results we wanted last season, but I took heart from what I saw both on and off the field – we’ve got something to work with for sure,” said Walker.

 “It’s great to have Linda, Carlos and Census back with us for another season. It gives us a level of consistency with familiar voices and processes which will help us to hit the ground running when we come together in February.”

Blues Head of Performance Development, Chad Shepherd, expressed a similar sentiment to Walker in regards to building on last season.

“This coaching group will benefit from a year together, coupled with the fact they’ll have a large number of returning players to work with and develop,” said Shepherd.

“Willie, Linda, Carlos and Census’ personalities and skill sets complement each other and their values align with those of the club, understanding the importance of people, connections and excellence.

“Sport is very much about relationships and we feel this group of coaches have the relationships in place to push our nib Blues wahine forward in 2024.”

Chiefs Manawa

Crystal Kaua returns as head coach for the Chiefs Manawa in 2024 after a 2023 season where her team won everything but the final.

It was a spectacular debut head coach season at Super Rugby level for Kaua, who succeeded new Black Ferns coach Allan Bunting following last year’s Rugby World Cup.

Prior to her promotion to the top job, Kaua operated as the team’s set piece coach and before that, she was leading Hamilton Girls High to three consecutive Condor Sevens national titles and 2 Super Four National 15s titles.

“This region means a lot to me,” she said upon re-signing for the 2024 season. “I have spent thousands of hours on the grass as a player and coach, deeply connected to the high school, club and provincial teams that I have been a part of.

“It’s always a privilege to whakamana a group of wahine toa. The final was tough last year but we know every player and staff member that went through that will come into this season better, there will be another layer of edge, of resilience, of hunger, of connectedness. That was our first loss in our three-year history. Personally, it’s made me dig deep over the off-season, look hard at myself and how I can be better, and how we as a management and team can be better.

“We have a skilled and uncompromising playing group, who by nature play with both brutality and beauty. Ultimately we want to dominate rugby and grow mana in the process, for our players and our management, for our communities and women’s rugby as a whole. ”

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