Northern Suburbs name former Samoan international head coach for 2020 Shute Shield campaign

By Mark Cashman

Northern Suburbs have appointed vastly experienced Kiwi coach Earl Va’a to lead the club’s Shute Shield campaign in 2020.

The 47-year-old former Samoan Test flyhalf at the 1999 and 2003 Rugby World Cups has a much decorated CV after leading the Wellington Lions in the Mitre 10 Cup (2015-2016) and the Coca-Cola Red Sparks in Japan in recent times (2017-2019).

Va’a has played and coached all over the world with jobs in Italy at L’Aquila and Worcester in England before further appointments in Japan and then the famed NZ pathway in Wellington.

He takes over from Nick Hensley who led the first grade side to the Shute Shield grand final qualifier in 2019.

Norths director of rugby Chris Hall said he was looking forward to working closely with Va’a.

“Earl’s philosophies on the game and on how it should be coached and played along with his values really aligns with what we are about as a club,” Hall said.

“He is passionate about developing players, from top to bottom and will lead us in what will be a new chapter at the club.

“His CV speaks for itself and his experience in the NZ system in Wellington where he worked with the likes of Ma’a Nonu, Piri Weepu, Tana Umaga, Tamati Ellison, Jimmy Gopperth and Hosea Gear speaks volumes of the respect that he has earnt over time.”

Va’a has started preparations for the 2020 season already but will be on the ground in the new year as the club starts the second block of its pre-season.

In the meantime first grade backs coach Zak Beer, who has come up from the Manly Marlins to join Norths, will drive the current pre-season block on Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturday mornings until just before Christmas.

“It’s a huge honour and privilege to be associated with a club with such a great history as Norths,” Va’a said.

“I’m keen to continue what’s gone before me while at the same time endeavouring to make our own slice of history.

“I’m also looking forward to working with Sape Misa (Norths forwards coach) who I coached here in Wellington as he transitions from his playing days into the coaching sphere.”

Va’a’s playing career was highlighted by two Rugby World Cup tournaments with Samoa and in the 27 Tests that he played for the Manu he started in 24 of those for a total of 174 points from three tries, 33 conversions and 31 penalty goals.

He grew up playing rugby league in Wellington but was quickly brought into the Manu when he crossed the great divide in 1996.

His Test debut came against Ireland at Lansdowne Rd in 1996 while his last was against South Africa in Brisbane at the 2003 Rugby World Cup – a game where both teams joined a prayer circle at Suncorp Stadium after full time.

The appointment of Va’a to the top job at Norths continues a strong link to Kiwi coaches where they have struck gold with the likes of Denis Brown (1998 grand final appearance v Gordon) and Kevin Horan (minor premiers in 2001).

Then, of course, there was Simon Cron who learnt the coaching ropes in New Zealand and he brought Norths their first Shute Shield title in 41 years back in 2016.

One of Va’a’s referees Steve Hansen, the former All Blacks coach heading to Japan to work with Cron, valued his great passion for the game and the players he coaches.

He has a sound technical knowledge of the game and will give everything to the role, Hansen said.

Forwards coach Sape Misa was coached by Va’a when he was playing in New Zealand and rates him highly.

Misa will sit down with him next week when he is in Wellington for some coaching development with the Wellington Rugby Union.