Crusaders lose assistant coach on eve of Super season

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 6 Jan 2021, 3:28PM
Mark Jones. Photo / Photosport
Mark Jones. Photo / Photosport

Crusaders lose assistant coach on eve of Super season

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 6 Jan 2021, 3:28PM

The Crusaders are likely to start the Super Rugby season one coach short after former Welsh wing Mark Jones opted not to return for the second year of his contact with the defending champions.

Jones became the second assistant in as many years to depart the Crusaders – following Irish first five-eighth Ronan O'Gara who worked alongside Scott Robertson for the 2018-19 seasons before switching to French club La Rochelle.

Jones replaced O'Gara by assuming the defence, positional play and extended squad roles with Canterbury and the Crusaders last season.

Having returned home to Wales with his wife and two children following the conclusion of the Mitre 10 Cup campaign, complications with New Zealand's quarantine protocols, which prevented Jones from gaining a managed isolation ticket until March, and the prospect of joining Worcester Warriors conspired to end his time in Christchurch.

"Once it became clear that I would not be able to go back to Canterbury because of the quarantine situation, things happened very quickly with Warriors," Jones said.

Jones' departure leaves the Crusaders searching for a replacement on the eve of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season which kicks off late next month.

Finding an alternative will be difficult in that timeframe, and New Zealand's border closure effectively rules out the prospect of luring another foreign coach.

Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge says the team is in no rush to rehire and a reallocation of coaching portfolios between the existing team – Robertson, Jason Ryan, Scott Hansen and Andrew Goodman - will take place in the interim.

"You wouldn't want to do that over a long period of time but Razor is very confident about the group that is there and their ability to take on tasks at the start of the season and we'd cope for the whole season if we needed to," Mansbridge said.

"They're very capable of picking up the slack for each other over a period of time as they've proven with Covid and other adverse events we've had to deal with.

"In the longer term there's not much use in trying to be the cheapest high performance programme. It might be we start the season a little lighter.

"We have known that Mark has been under quite a bit, sort of, of stress from being apart from his family and home for quite some period of time so we have been planning for it for a long period of time.

"We're working through options at the moment."

Mansbridge also provided an update of sorts on Robertson's ongoing contract negotiations with New Zealand Rugby, suggesting an agreement was imminent.

Robertson is expected to re-sign through to 2023 after leading the Crusaders to four straight championships - three Super Rugby titles and last year's inaugural SRA crown.

"Razor used the term pre-Christmas. He's the hare and his agent is the tortoise," Mansbridge said.

"It's like the Mainland Cheese ad good things take time. We're still in very positive dialogue. He'd be a great catch for someone else somewhere else in the country but he's made it clear this is home, this is his club, and if it fits with his ambition this is where he'd like to stay.

"We'd love to have him stay and we're still working confidently on the basis he is staying."