King Carlos is back with the Blues and pledging to jump on board the women’s rugby revolution.
Former Blues star and fan favorite Carlos Spencer is back where he made his name in rugby, coming on board as backs coach for the franchise’s women’s team in Super Rugby Aupiki 2023.
Spencer, who played 99 times for the Blues in a decade-long Super Rugby career that kicked off in 1996, brings a wealth of experience to the role. He played 35 tests for the All Blacks between 1995 and 2004, but always saved his best for the Auckland franchise where he was known as an innovative, X-factor No. 10 who could turn a game on its head in an instant.
In coaching he has had stints in South Africa with the Lions, Sharks and Eastern Province, in Japan and more recently was an assistant with the Hurricanes in Super Rugby and with New Orleans Gold in the US Major League competition.
* How New Zealand Rugby plans to keep the Black Ferns on top of the world
* The big talking points from the Super Rugby Aupiki squad announcements
* Black Ferns Sevens stars missing from 2023 Super Rugby Aupiki squads
“I just like giving back to the game, the way I played rugby,” he explained of his decision to take up the role as an assistant to Willie Walker. “And the way the women’s game is going, and what the Black Ferns have shown us, it’s a style I love. It was exciting watching them throw the ball around, and their ambition. I just want to be a part of it.”
Spencer admitted he had been inspired by the roles his former coaches Wayne Smith and Sir Graham Henry had played with the Black Ferns in their successful 2022 campaign, and although he has no experience in the women’s space, he was eager to get involved.
“It’s not a space I’m used to … but I thought it would be a great opportunity and challenge for me. It’s going to be about learning early on, and asking a lot of questions about the environment. But it’s a game I see that’s going to grow tremendously in the future and I just want to be a part of that.”
Spencer, like all Kiwis, was enthralled by the impact of the recent women’s World Cup and expected Super Rugby Aupiki to benefit from the Black Ferns’ success.
“The support they had over the last six months has been awesome. Just look at that final and them hanging around afterwards and what it meant to the country. It’s probably about time it happened and let’s just hope this can grow into a special thing.”
The one-time mercurial playmaker also noted the personalities that were quickly emerging in the women’s game, headed by the incomparable Ruby Tui.
“It’s different to the men’s game,” he said. “You probably do get to see those sort of characters come out of the women’s game. I’m not saying they have more fun, but it looks like they have more fun, and they’re a bit more relaxed. That’s the way women are. They want to enjoy themselves more and that’s what makes them better players.”
Spencer was also thrilled to be back at a franchise where he carved legendary status as a triple title-winning flamboyant No. 10 capable of the brilliant on a regular basis. Pictures of him in his heyday adorn the walls of HQ at Alexandra Park.
“I haven’t been here for years, and to be back connected with the Blues family is awesome. It’s close to my heart and always has been since I moved here in 1994 (from Levin),” he said.
“Man, it brings back some awesome memories – what we went through back in those days, the enjoyment we had, the caliber of players and coaches. That’s where it all started for this franchise, and to come back and see those pictures brings back some great memories.”
Spencer said he had also enjoyed the re-emergence of the Blues men in recent years.
“Leon [MacDonald] has done a tremendous job. It’s probably one of those things – for all of us Blues supporters, the past 10-15 years have been a disappointment. Now we can see they’re back on the right track, the future is bright for Blues rugby.”
The Waikato-based 47-year-old who still looks fit enough to play the game now has 18-year-old son Payton emerging in the sevens game, and in Blues development circles, but says he will be giving the next generation all the space he needs to do his thing.
“I want to keep as far away from him as possible. He’s leaving home, and probably wants to see the back of Mum and Dad, and now I’m going to be on the doorstep for 3-4 months. I’m not sure how he feels about that. But tough.”
The Blues legend was also disappointed to learn the women’s team would not have an Aupiki game against Matutū in Christchurch (they will meet in Dunedin during a combined round) where he hasn’t been back since his heyday with the Blues.
“I always enjoy going down there. I get a great reception whenever I’m there,” he noted with a smile. “I haven’t been back there for years. They probably don’t remember who I am, to be honest. They’ve probably forgotten about me.”
Doubtful. The legend of King Carlos lives on.