Umaga contract extension 'preferred option'

The Blues chief executive Michael Redman has said the retention of Tana Umaga is their preferred option for the coach of the Super Rugby team next year.

With the Blues struggles from recent years continuing in 2018 and former All Blacks captain Umaga in the last year of his contract, speculation has been mounting as to whether he will stay in the role with the franchise.

Addressing media at the team's headquarters in Auckland on Tuesday, Redman said they hoped to confirm their coaching team for 2019 in the next few weeks but indicated Umaga was in the box seat.

"It's fair to say there is plenty of support for Tana within New Zealand Rugby and the Blues.

"We think he has a great rugby brain, he has the respect of the players, he has my support and the support of the board.

"We'll work through a process to determine what the coaching team looks like because obviously the head coach is the most important appointment we make but he's one of four or five.

"Getting the coaching group right and the support around whoever the head coach is is important."

With their last semifinal appearance coming way back in 2011, the Blues have improved slightly under Umaga's watch, finishing 11th in 2016 and ninth last year.

But their start to this campaign has been poor, their first eight games returning just two wins and six losses.

That record had them last in the highly competitive New Zealand conference, 12 points behind the fourth-placed Highlanders, and second-to-last overall, ahead of only the winless Sunwolves from Japan.

After 34-16 loss to the Highlanders at Eden Park on Friday night, the Blues are also now without a win against a New Zealand team in 35 matches.

With Umaga in the third and final year of his contract, questions have started to surface about his future.

Pressed on the situation, Redman continued to suggest they would likely shy away from parting ways with Umaga, who took over after the team had recorded finishes of 10th, 10th and 14th in their three years under Sir John Kirwan.

"In the end we haven't been able to deliver and changing coaches every cycle hasn't worked for the Blues previously and I'm record saying that.

"Our preferred option would be to work with group we have but we have to make sure we get the shifts [in performance] as well.

"Some of those shifts are on-field and some are off field. As long as we see those shifts are still happening, that growth is happening within individuals and the club then we are prepared to keep going."

During the Blues struggles of the past several years, a focal point of the debate about the team has been players from the region heading to other franchises and going on to success.

Current and former All Blacks such as Waisake Naholo and Malakai Fekitoa and rising stars Tevita Li (all Highlanders) and Ben Lam (Hurricanes) are all examples of those doing very well after leaving the Blues.

While acknowledging the loss of players from what is the richest talent pool in the country had been an issue, Redman denied it still was.

"I don't see a theme there and I think it's some what of an old argument.

"All we can do is focus on the group we have and try to get the best out of them while they're here.

"Some players leave because there are other playing opportunities elsewhere, others leave because the system they're going into, whether that's on field or off field, suits them better.

"We respect those decisions. Equally we brought some players back into the region. There is a cycle, a round-about of player movements, and we are just part of that."

Redman also revealed the Blues had reached out to the Warriors rugby league team.

Like the Blues a team who have battled to produce good results in recent years, the Auckland-based NRL side have started their 2018 season superbly, winning six of their opening seven games.

"They're happy to share their insights into their journey over the last few years.

"That's the nature of sport, we're pretty collegial and we share what we can to help everyone get better."