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MacDonald changes mind on Crusaders assistant coaching role

Leon MacDonald's decision to execute a U-turn and decline the Crusaders' assistant coach's job has put an even wackier spin on the Super Rugby franchise's week.

Former All Blacks and Crusaders fullback MacDonald, who lives with his family in Blenheim and has several businesses in the town, had agreed to join the franchise as a replacement for departing attack coach Aaron Mauger. Mauger confirmed on a radio station that his old team-mate would replace him, but it seems he has had a change of heart.

The Crusaders have discussed the issue at length with MacDonald, who is currently working as Scott Robertson's assistant with the New Zealand under-20 team in Australia, and have respected his decision to remain with Tasman.

This is good news for Tasman, who aim to promote MacDonald to replace head coach Kieran Keane if he decides to work under Chiefs boss Dave Rennie next year, but the Crusaders, who are also absorbing the news defence coach Tabai Matson is being chased by the Blues, won't be so cheerful. It just adds to their problems.

Last week coach John Kirwan presented an audacious plan which involves recruiting Matson as his assistant for next season, so he can groom him to take over as head coach for 2017. The Crusaders have been blindsided by these revelations.Matson, who is contracted to New Zealand Rugby and not the Crusaders, has been with the franchise since 2013 has been mentioned by several insiders as a potential replacement for head coach Todd Blackadder when his contract expires at the end of 2016.

But Matson would know there are no certainties in this fickle industry. If the Crusaders board decide to advertise the job and recruit a new head coach who wants his own assistants, he could be toast.In a perfect world the Crusaders' coaching team would already be in place for next season.

Although the Crusaders board are hardly thrilled by the way the team have performed this season - after their 29-23 loss to the Hurricanes on Saturday night they require a miracle to make the playoffs in late June - they are not likely to throw Blackadder under a bus.

Blackadder would have been hoping to have assistant forwards coach Dave Hewett, Matson and MacDonald ready to go for next year. Now there is uncertainty.There is little doubt next season shapes as one of the most pivotal in the Crusaders' 20-year history.

They will be without legendary flanker Richie McCaw, who is expected to retire post-World Cup, and must also bed in some new first five-eighths to replace Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor who have signed to play in France.Adding to this tricky situation is the expectation that Crusaders captain Kieran Read will replace McCaw as All Blacks captain. Blackadder, who took the captaincy off McCaw in 2013 amid concerns his job as All Blacks skipper was distracting him from his Crusaders gig, may be concerned about Read's workload next year.

In the short term, however, he has more pressing issues to negotiate.If Matson announces he will join the Blues, Blackadder may want him to exit immediately. Yet the final decision may not be his to make. NZ Rugby and the Crusaders' board could decide Matson's fate. Whatever happens, a solution needs to be found quickly.