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Northern United’s Tamati Ellison named as Wellington Lions Head Coach

Tamati Ellison playing for Northern United against Petone in the Jubilee Cup in 2007. 

He memorably helped his club Northern United win its first Jubilee Cup title in 2004 and then sat a university exam the next day. Now, Tamati Ellison will be tutoring the next generation of Wellington lions players with confirmation of his appointment at Wellington Lions head coach for 2023.

For the first time since 1982, the Wellington Lions coach will be heading into the new season with both the NPC title and Ranfurly Shield to defend, silverware he helped win last year as Lions assistant coach.

Ellison fills the coaching position vacated by 2022 head coach, Leo Crowley.

Ellison, currently on the Crusaders coaching staff, said he was excited to be returning to the Lions as head coach.

“This is a really exciting opportunity, and I couldn’t be more excited to be taking on this new role. This is a team I’ve worked closely with over the past few seasons; a team that I once played for, and a team that is full of talented players.

“What we achieved last year was incredible. We developed a really strong culture in this team, and great connection with one another, so I am excited to keep building on that.”

Ellison brings a wealth of experience to the coaching team, having been a player-coach in the Japanese Top League, with Kurita Water Gush, and more recently, been involved with the Lions coaching group since 2020 and the Crusaders since 2021. Prior to that, Ellison represented the All Blacks, Blues, Hurricanes, Highlanders and Rebels.

Wellington Rugby Football Union CEO Shannon Paku said: “Tamati is a good man with a great deal of mana, and well-respected on and off the field.

“He helped [Leo Crowley] lead the Lions to victory in the 2022 season, and is now working hard with the Crusaders, so we know he will make a significant contribution, not only to the Lions but also to the wider Wellington Rugby community,” said Paku.

Wellington Lions Captain Du’Plessis Kirifi said: “I think I speak for all of us when I say how stoked we are to have Tams not only recommit to the coaching group but move into the head role. What he offers, not only in terms of his knowledge of the game but also his holistic mentorship, is something we all greatly value as players and young men.

“Being from Porirua, it’s great to have a local legend contributing to the Wellington rugby community in such a positive way.

“He’s been massive for my growth as a leader and as a player, his insight is immense so to have someone like that to lean on and learn from is huge,” said Kirifi.

Ellison made his Super Rugby debut for the Blues in 2005, then went on to represent the Hurricanes from 2006 to 2010. Following a stint in Japan with Ricoh Black Rams, Ellison returned to New Zealand to link up with the Highlanders for their 2012 and 2013 seasons, before making his way back to Japan and the Black Rams. He finished his Super Rugby playing career in 2016 after three seasons with the Melbourne Rebels, returning to Japan once again.

The 39-year-old also has a number of national honours to his name, pulling on the black jersey for the Junior All Blacks and the Māori All Blacks between 2005 and 2009, and winning a Commonwealth Games gold medal with the New Zealand Sevens team in 2006.

In 2009, he earned a selection in the All Blacks, becoming All Black number 1099 when he made his debut against Italy on the end-of-year tour.

Most recently, the four-Test All Black was a player-coach in the Japanese Top League, with Kurita Water Gush, and he was part of the Wellington Lions coaching group for the 2020 provincial season.

He made his first class debut for the Wellington Lions in 2003 against Auckland in the NPC final and played 44 times at provincial level.

As captain of the Lions in 2007 he led them to the final of the NPC against Auckland and won the Wellington Player of the Year award.

Ellison is the grandson of 1947-1954 All Black Vince Bevan, the son of former Wellington B coach Eddie Ellison, who also coached the 2006 champion Northern United club team in Wellington who Tamati and his brothers Jacob and Leon played for, and a relation of New Zealand rugby great Tom Ellison who once wrote a book called The Art of Rugby.

Crowley, who led the 2022 Lions to victory, said that he was thrilled to see Ellison appointed head coach: “It’s great news. Tams [Tamati] brings experience and continuity to the position. He has a great connection with the players, and it really is an exciting time to be involved with the Lions.”

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