Old Glory has announced that Kurt Baker, one of New Zealand's top sevens players, will be joining the team as a player-coach. He will help coach the back line while also playing as a fullback or wing himself.

Baker has had a storied career with the All Blacks Sevens team. Debuting on the international stage in Dubai in 2008, he went on to massive success, winning gold twice at the Commonwealth Games, silver at the 2020 Olympics, and gold twice and silver once at the Rugby Sevens World Cup. He was twice named the New Zealand Sevens Player of the Year as well, in 2010 and 2013. He announced his retirement from sevens at the World Sevens Series tournament in Dubai just last weekend, bring to a close a 14-year career in the same tournament where it had started.

Even with his focus on sevens, Baker has had a good career in 15s as well. Coming out of Palmerston North Boys' High School, he quickly got picked up by Manawatu in the National Provincial Championship, making his professional debut at the age of 20. He went on to play for Taranaki, also in the NPC, before making the jump to Super Rugby with the Highlanders. He spent a season in Italy with Pro12 team Zebre before returning to the NPC to play for Hawke's Bay, where he overlapped with new OGDC head coach Josh Syms.

Suffice to say, Baker is a big deal. You couldn't really ask for a better pedigree for Old Glory's first dedicated backs coach, and the chance to see him play as well is exciting. OGDC had a fantastic back line in 2020, but it has struggled to consistently reproduce that success. Hopefully the injection of dedicated coaching and significant experience will help lift the backs in the coming season.

Of course, it's a little difficult to tell how central he will be to the team as a player - when Callum Gibbins was hired as a player-coach in 2021, he end up taking on a huge role, playing more minutes than any other back rower and coming in a close second amongst all the forwards. I don't think that was the plan when he was hired, and likely contributed to his stepping back from playing in 2022. I don't expect to see Gibbin's experience repeated with Baker, but it's certainly possible, especially if he makes as much of an impact on the pitch as Gibbins did.

The signing of Baker doesn't do much to clarify what the back line will look like in 2023. The team never quite settled on a preferred lineup last season and now there are new signings in the mix, like Baker and Fermin Martinez. It will likely take a few matches for the backs to settle into a consistent arrangement. This signing also raises the question of whether long-time OGDC star Renata Roberts-Te Nana will be returning. As one of only a few starting players from last season whose status is still unknown, the signing of a foreign wing/fullback adds significant uncertainty to whether Roberts-Te Nana will suit up for Old Glory next year.


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