The New Zealand Herald

Auckland Rugby revolt

Potential exodus of All Blacks stars to rival unions as assistant coach Filo Tiatia resigns after performanc­e review

- Liam Napier

All is not well within New Zealand’s largest provincial union. A review into Auckland’s provincial side, and subsequent feedback from senior Blues management, has allegedly led to the resignatio­n of an assistant coach and the potential exodus of headline All Blacks to rival unions.

The Herald understand­s discontent within the Auckland squad that lost last year’s Championsh­ip final at Eden Park to Tasman has seen several All Blacks, including Blues No 8 Hoskins Sotutu and prop Ofa Tuungafasi, approach rival unions.

Seeking to exit the Auckland team, Sotutu is understood to be in talks with Counties Manukau while Tu’ungafasi has approached Northland. Counties have also signed former St Kentigern College first XV captain turned Blues midfielder Tanielu Tele’a from Auckland.

Fellow All Blacks Caleb Clarke, Akira Ioane and flanker Blake Gibson are understood to be among others weighing their futures with Auckland. Ioane is thought to have told Blues teammates he could represent Northland, as his grandfathe­r on mother’s side lives in Kaikohe.

Clarke’s father, Eroni, played 150 games for Auckland and now serves as the union’s president.

The review and later feedback from Blues chief executive Andrew Hore is believed to have conveyed fractured relationsh­ips between some players and coaches and the need for better communicat­ion.

Last week, Auckland rugby staff were told assistant coach Filo Tiatia, the former All Blacks and Hurricanes loose forward, had resigned.

The poor performanc­e of Auckland’s lineout — ranked 12 of 14 teams last year — also contribute­d to Tiatia’s exit, the Herald understand­s.

Frustratio­n around last year’s player payments, which were eventually made in full after Auckland’s $120,000 funding cut by New Zealand Rugby because of Covid-19 impacts, are believed to have contribute­d to unrest within the team.

Auckland Rugby Union chief executive Jarrod Bear confirmed Tiatia’s departure to the Herald.

Bear said the union will take a proactive approach in future to making changes within the team.

“We made an announceme­nt to our community this week that Filo has resigned,” Bear said.

“We’ve acknowledg­ed over the past three years he’s had a massive contributi­on.

“He has been big across our coaching developmen­t space so we wish Filo all the best for the future.

“Through the review we identified some areas we’re going to improve, evolve and change.

“There were areas within the coaches as well as the wider management team where we can improve, along with making sure we provide clear direct feedback to the players around selection and their developmen­t,” said Bear.

“We’ve committed to the players that we’re going to be advancing the high performanc­e environmen­t to support them so they can be the best they can be.”

Auckland captured their first title in 11 years when head coach Alama Ieremia, the former All Blacks second five-eighth turned Hurricanes assistant and Samoa head coach, and forwards mentor Tiatia came on board in 2018 to seemingly transform the previous struggling team.

Well-placed sources allege relationsh­ips within the team have deteriorat­ed since that breakthrou­gh title in 2018. Tension appears to have built during the past two seasons, with some long-serving support staff understood to have emulated the players’ concerns.

As well as those players wanting to leave Auckland now, one source pointed to Vince Aso’s departure to Wellington in 2019 and former assistant coach Tai Lavea’s abrupt exit to Counties Manukau following Auckland’s 2018 title success. All Blacks and Blues flanker Dalton Papalii also switched from Auckland to Counties Manukau last season.

Bear said the Auckland squad is 90 per cent complete for the upcoming season but confirmed the likes of Sotutu and Tuungafasi, both of whom are local, homegrown All Blacks, could leave the team.

“There’s a couple of players we’re continuing conversati­ons with along with their agents. We’ll continue to advance those conversati­ons and see where they land,” Bear said.

“Player movement is a thing of modern-day times. We want to secure as many of the best players as we can so we’d like to keep hold of all players developed in Auckland and give them every opportunit­y.”

Several meetings have been held with players and coaches in recent weeks since the review was completed, with progress said to be positive.

“We’ve got a clear set of actions and we’ve talked that through with the players and we’re committed to bringing those to life,” Bear said.

Asked whether Ieremia, who has two years to run on his contract, had the backing of the players, Bear said: “Alama has got clear expectatio­ns around the need to remain relevant and evolve and improve. That’s an ongoing piece and he’s committed to making sure he’s working hard to deliver around the areas we want to improve.”

Ieremia and Tiatia declined to comment when approached by the Herald.

On Tuesday Tiatia posted on social media saying after three successful years it was the right time to move on. “I’m excited and looking forward to spending more time with my family and optimistic on what opportunit­ies arise moving forward,” he said.

Filo has resigned. We identified some areas we’re going to improve, evolve and change. Auckland Rugby Union chief executive Jarrod Bear

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