Northampton Saints have confirmed that director of rugby Chris Boyd will step down at the end of the season.
The 63-year-old, who has been in charge since 2018, is to return to his native New Zealand but will retain an advisory role with the Premiership club.
Former Saints and England number eight Phil Dowson will step up from his current role as forwards coach to become the new director of rugby.
Attack coach Sam Vesty will also be promoted to head coach.
Boyd guided Saints to victory in the 2019 Premiership Rugby Cup, while taking them to the league play-off semi-finals in the same year.
“It’s bitter sweet, yin and yang. Covid has been a massive issue for us, I’ve only seen my kids once in four years, I haven’t seen my grandkids,” he told BBC Radio Northampton.
“But the decision hasn’t been made any easier because I don’t feel I’ve finished my job here, we haven’t achieved what we wanted to achieve, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself here, enjoyed the people, enjoyed the club.”
He continued: “When I first took Phil on three and a half years ago I said ‘don’t be in a rush’, and now he’s found himself in a fairly short space of time becoming director of rugby at one of the best clubs in Europe.
“He views that as a privilege and a really fantastic challenge. The good thing is he’s got the capacity and the capability to do that job and he’s in a good, stable environment with a very supportive board. I think he’s got a very good chance of doing well here.”
Boyd joined Saints from Hurricanes, who he guided to the Super Rugby title in 2016, and will pay occasional visits to the club in his new role, Covid permitting.
They finished eighth and fifth in the past two Premiership campaigns and are currently fifth in the table as they look for a top-four finish which will earn them another crack at the play-offs, having won their only domestic title in 2014, when Dowson was a member of the team.
“We completely understand Chris’ reasons for deciding to go back to New Zealand – family must always come first,” said chief executive Mark Darbon.
“However, we always knew this time would come and have planned and rehearsed accordingly. For instance, earlier this summer when Chris took an extended break in New Zealand, Phil and Sam took sole charge of pre-season.
“From the moment we first spoke to Chris about joining Northampton Saints, we worked with him to build a high-potential group of coaches. Over the past three years, that group have developed and grown, and we are excited for what they can achieve together.”
‘Proud and humbled’
Dowson, 40, also played for Newcastle Falcons and Worcester Warriors during his career and won seven England caps.
Only two players have made more Premiership appearances than his 262, while former full-back Vesty, also 40, played for Leicester Tigers and Bath before retiring in 2013, and also played twice at international level.
“I am extremely proud and humbled to be stepping into the director of rugby role at Northampton Saints, a club I have loved from the moment I first ran on to the pitch at Franklin’s Gardens 12 years ago,” said Dowson.
“There is still plenty of growth left in this group of players and, alongside Sam and the entire coaching department, we will work tirelessly to deliver silverware for the club and our supporters – whose passion and commitment to the team is second to none.
“On a personal note, I would like to thank Chris for everything he has done for me as a coach; I have learnt an enormous amount from him, and I will always be grateful for the opportunities he has given me.”
Boyd, meanwhile, is due to face a disciplinary hearing on Thursday for criticising referee Adam Leal following the 30-6 defeat by Saracens on 2 January.
BBC Radio Northampton sports editor Graham McKechnie
One of Chris Boyd’s priorities when he arrived at Saints was to nurture the talent that already existed at the club, both in terms of the players and the coaches. He’s done that, with the likes of Lewis Ludlam, George Furbank, Alex Mitchell and others all thriving and developing under his leadership.
It is a logical step to promote Phil Dowson and Sam Vesty, both highly rated by Boyd and the players at Saints. There will be some concerns among supporters about if they’re ready, but having Boyd available to them remotely will help – and we’ve all grown used to video calls over the past couple of years.
On the pitch it’s hard to judge Boyd’s tenure, with half of it totally overshadowed by Covid, which certainly stifled the squad’s development as well as restricting recruitment. But they’re a better club now than when he arrived – certainly happier on and off the pitch.
There is great potential to make the next step and start winning trophies – something Boyd would take enormous pleasure in, watching on from afar.