Canon Rugby in Focus: Jim Kayes trains his sights on elusive Blues chief Michael Redman.
The text came in just a few minutes after full-time.
“Another clueless season.”
It was from a mate with a vested interest in the Blues being great again. He’s far from encouraged.
It was followed up by another friend who pointed the finger squarely at Blues CEO Michael Redman.
“Six years since they split from Auckland Rugby and he took over. They’ve played 94 games under his watch and lost 57. That’s 60 per cent.
“Crowds down, sponsorship down, membership decimated.”
Redman isn’t talking, at least not until a review of the season has been done, his spokesman said.
It’s not surprising as he’s always been an elusive target for those who believe he should carry some of the blame for years of consistent failure.
When Sir John Kirwan was being sacked with a thousand cuts, Redman was steadfastly absent from media scrums that saw Kirwan have to explain the process around his own eventual demise.
It was embarrassing.
Redman survived a recent revamp of the board and odds are he will survive another year of failure, but that doesn’t make his tenure any less mediocre.
And no one can say the Blues weren’t warned.
In 2013 former Hamilton mayor David Braithwaite said the Blues would “live to regret” hiring Redman who, it must be noted, defeated Braithwaite as mayor in 2004 and then became Hamilton City Council’s CEO.
Braithwaite accused Redman of being out of his depth in both roles, citing his management of the city’s V8 motorsport project and the construction of the $60 million-plus Claudelands Events Centre.
“It will be beyond Mr Redman. I tell the people of Auckland now, the Auckland Blues franchise will live to regret that decision.”
Redman wasn’t bothered by the criticism at the time and is sure to be unfazed by the recent results.
When Tana Umaga’s demotion from head coach to assistant, with Leon MacDonald taking over as the boss, was confirmed late last year, Redman made it clear he wasn’t about to be the next victim.
“Those are always matters for other people – my board – to decide on. But we’ve been able to recruit some quality people, go through significant change, and continue to deliver other things in the commercial area, and you can’t do that without continuity and stability of leadership,” he told Stuff when asked if he felt secure in his role and had certainty that he would remain at the helm.
Some believe the Blues were better this year than last despite again finishing bottom of the New Zealand conference, the spot they’ve held since 2013.
One fan posting to my Jim Kayes Media Facebook page, noted most of this year’s defeats were narrow, and others joined in saying the Blues aren’t far from breaking back into being a winning team.
Six of their 10 defeats were by five points or fewer and they did draw with the Bulls, 22-22.
And if you judge the Blues against the Crusaders, who are on track to win a third consecutive title, then perhaps there is room for hope.
They should have beaten the Crusaders in the opening round, a couple of wayward shots at goal costing them a victory that might have steered them toward a vastly different season.
They played well later in the year in their eight point loss in Christchurch, too.
But this is a succession of ifs, maybes and could-have-beens. The Blues’ history is littered with this.
And basically all this year has shown is the Blues are a tougher team to beat.
That’s cool and all that, but what Blues fans really want is a team that wins. Consistently. And plays decent rugby. The sort of rugby that entices people to the games, that gets people talking (positively) about the Blues again and that pushes players toward All Blacks selection.
Earlier I wrote for Newsroom that it was easy to blame the coaches for the Blues’ poor run of results. Surely the players had to carry some of the can.
“Few are leaders. Few deal well with pressure. Few make the correct decisions on the field. Few are able to help their team play patient rugby, building pressure and accumulating points.
Instead the Blues look for the quick fix. The try from broken play, the off-the-cuff moment that makes a highlights reel but seldom wins games and never secures a title.”
Those comments are even more valid at season’s end.
The problem with the Blues is that they seem to lurch from one season to the next with no clear plan for how they might actually improve.
There’s been three head coaches since Redman arrived and key issues like those detailed above, and finding world class players at halfback and first five, remain.
The latest effort is a second attempt at getting Beauden Barrett to shift from the Hurricanes but even if that is successful he won’t play for the Blues next year.
The Blues have used 13 players at first five since 2013 including the ill-fated attempt to turn league star Benji Marshall into a rugby player.
Harry Plummer came into this year as a local lad who had enjoyed a good Mitre 10 Cup with Auckland, helping guide them to a rare title.
With the Blues he has gone backwards, his goal kicking deteriorating,with other parts of his game.
MacDonald admitted after the final round robin defeat, to a pre-season looking Hurricanes side, that at 24-5 up the Blues should have kicked on and won.
“That’s where we’ve got to be better,” he said, before launching into a rallying cry of optimism.
“You don’t come into a role like this and not expect it to be difficult. It’s been difficult for a long period of time, but I’m excited about it, because when we get there, it’s going to be a great feeling.
“I’m really confident in the coaching group that we’re doing the right things. I’m confident in the core of players that we’ll take through with us and when we get to that finish line where we want to get to, it’s going to be much more special.”
Blues fans have heard it all before.
The views of the author are not necessarily endorsed by Canon.