Strawbridge to coach Waikato
Waikato have again opted for the formula of installing a former stalwart as coach in appointing Andrew Strawbridge as the next man to lead the Mooloos after Jono Gibbes.
Chiefs assistant Strawbridge was named the new Waikato coach for 2019 yesterday after Gibbes, a former Mooloos captain, recently departed for France to become La Rochelle’s director of rugby on a four-year deal.
Gibbes turned Waikato’s previously aimless but talented young team into one of the Mitre 10 Cup’s form sides in 2018 – featuring some of New Zealand’s most promising players (like Sevu Reece, Quinn Tupaea and Laghlan McWhannell).
Former Waikato fullback Strawbridge, who played 131 games for the province from 1983-95 before his move into coaching, takes over next year with the Mooloos returning to the Premiership after bouncing back following the disappointment of last year’s relegation.
‘‘Having played for the province, it is a huge honour for me to have this opportunity to coach a team I have strong ties too.
‘‘The key to the 2019 season is to maintain and to continue to build on the success that the team achieved in 2018,’’ Strawbridge said in a statement.
Waikato marched to the Championship title in style, thumping Otago 36-13 in last month’s final, after a superb six-match winning streak that was only ended when Otago successfully raided Hamilton for the Ranfurly Shield.
Strawbridge, 54, has been an assistant coach with the Chiefs for six years and was part of the coaching team that guided the side to Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013.
In 2015, a scratch to his eye threatened his life when he sustained a sepsis infection on a trip he made to Samoa for the historic All Blacks test in Apia.
Strawbridge lost sight in his right eye but survived the ordeal and has continued to raise funds for the Moto’otua Hospital in Samoa.
The Samoan hospital’s intensive care unit saved his life before he was flown home and treated in Waikato Hospital.
He recovered sufficiently to begin working again with the Chiefs in 2016, as their skills coach, and has stuck with them after former coach Dave Rennie left for Glasgow last year.
Strawbridge and his fellow Chiefs assistants, Neil Barnes and Tabai Matson, are contracted with the franchise until next year and coach Colin Cooper is signed on to 2020.
Waikato’s announcement said Strawbridge had been appointed just for 2019, so his coaching future beyond that is unclear after his long association with the Chiefs.
Strawbridge was first involved in coaching with Hamilton Boys’ High School before roles in Waikato’s club competition and overseas, as well as spells with North Harbour (2003-04), Auckland (2009-11) and two New Zealand under-20s teams that won world titles.
‘‘Strawbridge is another former player turned coach that understands the pride and the passion in the province and the jersey; we are privileged to have a coach of his calibre joining our coaching staff,’’ Waikato CEO Blair Foote said.
‘‘He brings a wealth of experience and coaching knowledge to the position and we look forward to seeing him put his unique stamp on the squad in 2019 and beyond.’’
Andrew Strawbridge will guide Waikato next season.