Hamilton based Chiefs Super Rugby head coach Colin Cooper has named his coaching team for the 2018 Super Rugby season.
Cooper will be joined by returning coaches Neil Barnes, Andrew Strawbridge and Carl Hoeft, with the exciting addition of Tabai Matson completing a quintet that features a combined 70 years of professional coaching experience.
“I’m really pleased with the coaching team we’ve assembled to lead the Chiefs in 2018 and beyond. Neil and Andrew have been a core part of the Chiefs success over the past few years so it’s great to have that continuity and their expertise for the Club. Carl finished playing professionally in 2011, so he’s really at the beginning of what will undoubtedly be an impressive coaching career. As a player he was a renowned scrummager, so it’s great to keep him in the coaching ranks with the Chiefs to continue sharing that experience and inspiring our forwards. Tabai is a great coaching acquisition for the Chiefs. His experience coaching at provincial, Super and International levels of the game will add something special to our coaching group. It’s great to connect with Carl and Tabs again having worked with them both with the Maori All Blacks, and I’m really looking forward to working with Neil and Andrew.”
Tabai Matson, 44, has an astute rugby mind and an impressive rugby resume. The midfielder made 58 appearances for Canterbury and played 25 games for the Crusaders in the 1990s, before continuing his playing career abroad. Born in Fiji, Matson played two Tests for Fiji at the 1999 Rugby World Cup, a team he also assisted as an attack coach in the 2015 RWC. He also played five matches for the All Blacks before turning his hand to coaching.
Matson joined Canterbury as their assistant coach in 2009, a role he held for three seasons before being promoted to head coach in 2012. He led Canterbury to their fifth successive national provincial championship title in his maiden year at the helm. In 2013 he joined the Crusaders coaching team and was also appointed assistant coach of the Maori All Blacks that same year, working alongside Colin Cooper for his three years with the national team.
In September Matson announced he was stepping down from his role as head coach of English club Bath in order to return to New Zealand for family reasons. His return home presented an opportunity for the Chiefs who quickly moved to secure the expertise of Matson, with his addition completing Coopers coaching team for 2018 and 2019.
Tabai Matson said: “Unfortunately it was illness in my family that drew me back to New Zealand a lot sooner than I had planned. Although it was disappointing to leave Bath, the unexpected opportunity to be involved with the Chiefs was too good to pass up. I’ve really enjoyed working with Colin historically and we share a lot of similar values which will align closely with the culture of the Chiefs. I’d like to acknowledge Bath for their support during a challenging personal time for my family and I. It’s great to be involved in Super Rugby again and I’m really looking forward to the journey ahead with the Chiefs.”
Experienced assistant coach Andrew Strawbridge has re-signed for a further two seasons and will also continue his valued involvement in the Chiefs wider high performance programmes.
“The last six years with the Chiefs Rugby Club have been an exciting time and has been relatively successful in terms of results. With changes in playing roster and team management for 2018, the club has a new exciting look. It was an easy decision to commit to a new contract and climb on board to help maintain the momentum we have developed. Working with Colin, Tabai, Neil and Carl provides me with an opportunity to work with very experienced coaches and I look forward to learning from them.”
Current assistant coach Neil Barnes has extended his contract for two years and is looking forward to building on the work they’ve put in during his time with the Club.
“I’ve absolutely loved my time at the Chiefs. It’s been challenging but very rewarding, so it was a bit of a no brainer to sign up again when the opportunity was offered. For me, we have unfinished business, having dropped out at the semis two years in a row. We have a large proportion of last year’s squad back and some exciting young men to come in, so it about getting back on the horse, working hard, and finishing the job this coming season.”
As well as the two seasons experience as assistant coach of the Gallagher Chiefs, Barnes also spent seven years as forwards coach of the Canadian Maple Leafs, won seven club rugby titles with New Plymouth Old Boys and was the assistant coach for the Taranaki provincial side.
Carl Hoeft will continue his role at the Chiefs for the fifth successive season. The former All Black and current assistant coach of the Maori All Blacks worked alongside Cooper with the national side from 2013 – 2017. Hoeft began his coaching career with Waikato Rugby after retiring in 2011 from an impressive playing career, where he achieved 30 caps for the All Blacks and represented Otago and the Highlanders domestically.
“I am pleased to have the opportunity to continue at the Chiefs. Working with good people throughout the organisation is what’s drawn me to continuing working there. It will also be great working with coaches who I respect and trust. Reconnecting with Coops and Tabai who I worked with in the Maori All Blacks in the past will make for a smooth transition. It’s an exciting time and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”