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Highlanders promote from within to finalise 2023 coaching group

Tom Donnelly. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The Highlanders have announced Otago NPC Coach Tom Donnelly has been appointed as their forwards coach for two years from 2023.


Donnelly played 65 games for the Highlanders between 2004 and 2011 as lock forward and 15 games for the All Blacks in 2009 to 2010. His association with Otago began in 2002 as a fresh-faced 21-year-old going on to play 82 matches for the blue and gold before heading overseas in 2014 to play in France.

He returned in 2017 to take up an assistant coaching role under Cory Brown before taking on the Head Coach role in 2020. His coaching experience also includes an assistant role with the NZ U20 in 2021 before heading up the coaching group this year and leading the team to an Oceania championship.

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Highlanders Head Coach Clarke Dermody has welcomed the appointment having observed Donnelly growing his coaching skills over the last several years.

“Tom was always a keen student of the lineout art as a player, technically and tactically he is excellent in that area. His experiences over the last few years with Otago and the NZ U20s has extended that knowledge base and I know Tom will grow our forwards”.

Donnelly is looking forward to taking up the challenge of coaching at the next level.

“I am extremely excited about this opportunity that the Highlanders have given me to join their coaching staff. I love representing this region and it’s a real privilege and honour to be involved with an organisation that means so much to me. I’m looking forward to this new challenge at Super Rugby level and it’s a real positive that while coaching Otago I have been fortunate to have already worked with many of the Highlanders players and coaching staff. Now I just want to get stuck into the challenges that lie ahead and contribute to a successful 2023 Super Rugby campaign.”

That now completes Clarke Dermody’s 2023 coaching group, with Donnelly responsible for the lineout, kick-offs and general forward’s play, Dave Dillon will handle defence, Richard Whiffin on attack and Riki Flutey looking after skills and the backs while Chris Boyd will be the coaching mentor.


“Good to have finalised the coaching team, who I know are all very eager to get on with the job come late November when the players arrive. I am delighted with the mix of skills, innovation and experience contained within the group and excited about the possibilities of 2023” said Dermody.

– Highlanders Rugby


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Jon 2 hours ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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