New Blues assistant coach Paul Tito spoke to the media on just his second day in the gig in Auckland.
New Blues assistant coach Paul Tito feels sorry for dumped Wales supremo Wayne Pivac, and at least a little responsible for the demise of the veteran Kiwi.
The 44-year-old one-time Taranaki and Hurricanes standout lock, who on Tuesday was confirmed to step in as an assistant under Leon MacDonald at the Blues, has had a peripatetic last few years as he has ramped up his coaching career.
As part of that he has coached in New Zealand (Taranaki and the last two years with the Wellington Lions), Australia (Western Force), France (Pau) and most recently with the Georgia national team who capped a notable autumn series with an upset victory over Wales that likely lit the fuse on Pivac’s ousting.
It was confirmed this week that fellow Kiwi, and former Wales and British and Irish Lions coach, Warren Gatland would come in to replace Pivac who has been dumped less than a year out from the World Cup on the back of a horror autumn series that included losses to New Zealand, Australia and Georgia.
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Tito came on board with the Georgia national team this year under head coach Levan Maisashvili and Kiwi assistant Cory Brown to take charge of the forwards, and will remain in the role through next year’s World Cup in France.
“We’re all in this industry, and you never want coaches to be sacked,” Tito said after a Blues training session at the Eden club on Tuesday – his second day on the job with the Auckland franchise. “My thoughts go out to Wayne. He’s a strong man and he’ll come back bigger and stranger. Obviously Gats has been there before – they’ve got a guy they know and trust, and I’m sure he’ll do a good job leading up to the World Cup.
“On Georgia, it was a real privilege to coach international footy, and to go to Wales, a place that’s pretty special to my heart (Tito made 124 appearances for the Cardiff Blues from 2007-14), and do a job on those guys , it was unbelievable. To win at Principality Stadium will sit with me for a long time.
”Every time the Georgians put on that jersey you see a lot of pride and passion. It was a real privilege go to Tbilisi for a couple of weeks – it’s a special and inspiring place.”
Tito comes on board with the Blues to replace Ben Afeaki who’s heading to take up a role with the New York club in US Major League Rugby, and the Taranaki centurion and eight-season Hurricane cannot wait to get his hands on a Blues pack oozing ability . He’ll take a lead role in lineout work, among other things at last year’s Super Rugby Pacific runnersup.
“There’s big potential here – some special players,” added Tito of a pack laden with All Blacks. “We’ve just got to come together as one and make sure we’re nice and physical and doing the basic stuff well, and we should be there or thereabouts.”
The Blues did not do the aerial basics well in this year’s SRP final, losing 10 lineouts in total on a dismal night against the Crusaders. Tito watched, and observed.
“The lineout is a competitive thing,” he said. “The Crusaders are renowned for a great defensive lineout. They had a strategy that worked that night, and at other times it didn’t work. It’s a couple of minor things we need to get to the bottom of and be a bit more consistent in.”
Tito also looks at the Blues coaching group as a big chance for him to develop in his trade.
“There’s plenty of experience in this group. It’s great to have TC (Tom Coventry) here for me. He’s got a wealth of experience and knowledge, and I’ll be looking to get into his slipstream and learn a lot off him. It’s all about testing ourselves at the highest level.”
It’s interesting, too, that Tito has just three specialist locks in his top squad in Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Darry and James Tucker. He’s asked if fellow redhead Tom Robinson, all things considered, might be considered more a second-rower than a No 6 in 2023.
“I’m new into the seat, so I’m not going to stand here and say he’s a lock or a 6. He’s a good rugby player, he’s got a lot to offer, and we need to get the most out of all these guys, so we’re putting pressure on for selection. If that’s at lock, it will be at lock.”
MacDonald, for his part, is thrilled with his new coaching addition: “I played against Paul a lot back in the day – he was always a dogged and hard-working opponent.
“I’ve been impressed with what he’s done from a coaching standpoint in recent years. You only have to look at Georgia’s recent win over Wales and Wellington’s success (NPC champions and Ranfurly Shield holders) to see the impact someone like Paul can have on a group.”
The Blues will get their New Zealand XV players on board in the new year (January 5), with the touring All Blacks slated to start training around January 25.