Oliver, Kirwan and Fitzpatrick step up for Auckland Blues
January 13, 2001

As widely anticipated, illness has forced Gordon Hunter to stand down before the start of Super 12 2001 and the Blues franchise to reorganise its coaching staff.

It was revealed mid way through the 2000 campaign that head coach Hunter was suffering from the effects of inoperable cancer, but he battled on. The Blues put in place a contingency plan for the 2001 season and in early December it became apparent that Hunter was unlikely to be fit enough to take the side through another season.

There has been a great deal of back stage activity and matters came to a head on Saturday when NZRFU CEO David Rutherford requested the Blues to activate that contingency plan.

Former All Black lock Frank Oliver will take over as head coach. He has been assistant coach to Hunter since the pair took over at the beginning of the 2000 season. Previously he had been coach at the Wellington Hurricanes for four years.

Former All Black wing John Kirwan, manager in 2000, takes over as asssistant to Hunter, although his lack of coaching inexperience could leave the side vulnerable. His place as manager will be taken by Sean Fitzpatrick, widely recognised as one of the great All Black captains.In 2000 he performed the managerial role for the New Zealand under 21 side which so impressively won the SANZAR tournament held in Auckland. One of the season's fascinations will be to see how he goes about the task of supporting Oliver and Kirwan.

The Blues' players reassemble on Monday morning for a series of fitness tests as they build towards their Super 12 opener against the Highlanders in Dunedin.

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