In a coaching team featuring two knights, an All Black skills coach and a Super Rugby Championship-winning scrum coach, new assistant Grant Doorey has gone somewhat unnoticed by outsiders this season.
He might not have the flashy titles of some of his counterparts or hog the media headlines, but what he does have is an insatiable appetite to see the Blues return to their best, and so far he’s doing a fantastic job.
“I’ve loved the atmosphere we’ve created here at the Blues,” Doorey said.
“I’m really enjoying the culture that we’re trying to change and outside the last couple of results I feel like we’re on the right track,” he said.
Doorey comes from a rugby league background where he played first grade for Manly in Australia before moving into coaching, and ironically it was current French head coach Phillipe Saint-AndrÈ who gave him his first coaching opportunity in rugby union.
“I played a handful of first grade games as a young man but ultimately didn’t understand what sacrifice was about so that’s one of the reasons I’m probably a better coach now than I was a player because I understand that these players need to make the most of their opportunities,” he said.
“My coaching opportunity came in France and I had some success in rugby league for a few years with French club VilleNeuve winning the club championship and European Second Division and then I got an opportunity to coach in rugby with Phillipe Saint-AndrÈ the current French coach. He gave me my first crack in rugby as the defence coach in Bourgoin.”
Doorey took up a role as the Italian assistant coach in 2003 where his relationship with Sir John Kirwan began, and from there the duo formed a strong coaching partnership, heading to Japan together to coach the national team from 2007-2011 before joining the Blues for the 2013 campaign.
Kirwan said Doorey was an invaluable member of the Blues’ coaching line-up.
“I think the greatest thing about Grunta is his openness and his willingness to learn and get better every day,” Kirwan said.
“He has an incredible work ethic. He’s my right hand man and he really complements my weaknesses and I think we’ve created a really fantastic friendship through work.
“You say you can’t work with your mates but our friendship has grown through working together so I trust him with my life and he brings an incredible enthusiasm and work ethic to his role.”
Doorey’s key areas of responsibility at the Blues include looking after the backline and all the attacking structures as well as individual skill work-ons for the whole group.
Working with a raw and talented group of backs, Doorey has got the best out of a young and enthusiastic group.
“If at the start of the year you’d said we’d be sitting here †having a couple of young guys who have emerged from being potentially very good footballers into current All Black squad members you would have been very pleased,” he said.
Doorey isn’t fazed by working with the current coaching squad and is excited about what group are capable of achieving with the Blues.
“I think the dynamic is very good. What we’ve got here is a real desire to get better as a group and I think that’s the foundation for a good coaching team. We’re not scared to challenge each other so there’s lots of robust discussion and lots of opinion shared but at the end of the day we either agree and commit or disagree and commit and move forward with it.
“Obviously the experience of the other guys in the group is fantastic but at the end of the day you have your own area of responsibility and you’re ultimately responsible for delivering that and delivering it consistently at a higher level and that’s how you’re measured.
“So I’m not fazed by the coaching group, it excites me that every day we get to share ideas and I get to discuss stuff with Ted, JK and Mickey about how we want to play the game and I think we’re in a very lucky situation that we have guys of that calibre who are here and really motivated to get the Blues to a better place.”
Doorey believes the biggest challenge facing the Blues is putting together consistently high quality performances. While they have produced some dazzling rugby this season, their performances have fluctuated heavily, and while he said the team was making significant strides forward, it needed to continue.
“We are making headway, I think results don’t always show headway and show progress but ultimately you’re measured by results so you need to consistently have results in the back of your mind when you’re measuring progress, because to keep momentum with the group and to keep the group motivated results are important.
“So yes we’re heading in the right direction. Are we heading in the right direction with the speed that we’d like? No.”
Doorey is excited about the challenge posed by the French at North Harbour Stadium on Tuesday night.
“The French are a great side, consistently in the top three or four in the world and they play a great brand of rugby that everyone enjoys watching.”
“They’re very combative in terms of the physical edge they bring to the game, they pride themselves on that and it’ll be a great test for our set piece because they’re very good at the scrum and lineout and they play with a spirit that everyone loves.
“They’re very flamboyant, off the cuff, very positive and very laissez faire in terms of they just try anything and if it comes off great and if it doesn’t then it doesn’t, there isn’t too much drama.
“We’re preparing for this game as importantly as any other game this year and it’s a massive opportunity for us to be the first New Zealand franchise to play against an international side. The guys are on edge and they’re looking forward to it.”