The Fijian Drua have today announced the appointment of Mick Byrne as the Club’s first-ever Head Coach. The vastly experienced Byrne has been Assistant and Skills Coach for the Wallabies, All Blacks, Japan and Scotland over a 23-year rugby union coaching career. The Australian also brings with him Super Rugby experience as Assistant Coach of the Auckland Blues from 2012 to 2014. Prior to rugby, Byrne had a stellar playing and coaching career with the AFL. The initial term of his appointment is for the first two seasons.
Interim CEO Brian Thorburn welcomed Byrne to the Fijian Drua vuvale. “We are absolutely delighted to have someone of Mick’s calibre and experience as our foundation Head Coach. He is a seasoned professional and shone through the intensive selection process by displaying real passion for the Club and Fijian rugby, and by outlining solid plans for success both on and off the field. Mick prioritises maintaining a respectful and cordial relationship with players, staff and partners, which is particularly important for us.”
Thorburn added: “We are just as excited to have Nacanieli Cawanibuka [Naca], who really is Fiji’s foremost strength and conditioning (S&C) coach, join the Fijian Drua vuvale as our Head of Athletic Performance. His work ethic, discipline and commitment is world class. Naca has worked tirelessly over the years to lead S&C for our 7s programmes, which has resulted in two Olympic gold medal wins and numerous World Sevens Series titles. His credentials are globally recognised and he is a wonderful addition to Fiji’s first professional Super Rugby Club.”
Head Coach Mick Byrne’s strong international coaching experience, which includes 2 Rugby World Cups, 5 Tri-Nations titles, 5 Rugby Championships and 11 Bledisloe Cups (with the All Blacks), as well as 3 Asian Cups and a Pacific Nations Cup (with Japan).
Commenting on his new role, Mick Byrne said: “BULA VINAKA to all Fijian rugby fans, players, stakeholders, partners and supporters in Fiji and around the world. I am honoured and proud to join the Fijian Drua vuvale on our maiden Super Rugby voyage. I have followed and admired the way Fijian teams play the game over the course of my coaching career. It’s a style of play that puts the joy of rugby at its core, and I’m very excited to help our Club showcase this to the world when the new Super Rugby season starts.”
He added: “None of us are under any illusions that it will be easy. We understand the challenges ahead of us in this first season, being based away from home. But within that challenge lies the opportunity to grow stronger as a team and a Club. It will allow us to be patient with our players, help them find their own way and naturally grow into the game we want to play. It will be that brand of exciting Fijian rugby that our players and fans love, but with clinical aspects to it in both attack and defence. It will be hard work in our first two seasons but the journey will be rewarding and enjoyable.”
Byrne further stated: “I am really looking forward to working with Naca and other coaching and management staff to get our squad ready to meet the standards required for top level rugby week in, week out. As a professional competition, Super Rugby is right up there as the most demanding and most expansive. It will require massive fitness, skill and conditioning commitment from everyone and Naca’s unique insights and proven ability at the elite level will be invaluable for us.”
New Head of Athletic Performance Nacanieli Cawanibuka said it was truly humbling to be part of the maiden Fijian Drua voyage. “To compete with the best in professional rugby and work with the some of the best coaches, management and players in the sport, is the dream of a lifetime for any Fijian. This is the beginning of a new era for Fijian rugby - a major milestone that has taken a quarter of a century to materialise.”
Cawanibuka added: “It is a privilege to be called to be part of the journey and entrusted with the role. It is rewarding personally for me to see players coming through our various domestic pathways and witnessing Fijians returning home to be part of the squad. This is the culmination of the efforts of so many people over the years and it is important we acknowledge their labour and contribution.”
“I can’t wait to work with a world-class coaching group headed by Mick Byrne, a strong management team and an amazing group of talented Fijian players. These players will lay hand on the oars of the Drua, to set sail through the oceans of new opportunities and challenges to create a rugby legacy for our fellow Fijians”.
As part of ongoing local development, Mick Byrne and the Fijian Drua Staff will map post-season capacity-building programmes. This will include extensive visits to and sessions with the coaching staff of Fiji’s 24 provincial teams who feature in domestic competitions.