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Highlanders unveil Clarke Dermody as Tony Brown's replacement as head coach

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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The Highlanders have announced long-serving assistant coach Clarke Dermody as the franchise’s new head coach in the wake of Tony Brown’s departure to Japan.

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Brown has left the Highlanders following a three-year stint with the franchise – his second spell as a coach at his former side – to concentrate fully on his role as Japan assistant coach.

As such, the Highlanders have moved to lock in Dermody as Brown’s replacement on a three-year deal after having acted as an assistant at the Dunedin-based side since 2014, when he joined the team as a scrum coach under former boss Jamie Joseph.

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During his time as a scrum coach, Dermody helped the Highlanders reach the 2014 Super Rugby playoffs, breaking a 15-year post-season drought in doing so.

The 42-year-old part of the coaching set-up when the Highlanders won their first, and only, Super Rugby title to date the following year, and when they famously defeated the British & Irish Lions in 2017.

His role within the franchise has since grown, moving up the ranks to become forwards coach before taking now taking the reins as head coach.

Dermody’s appointment comes after the former three-test All Blacks prop took charge of the Highlanders during last year’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman campaign in the absence of Brown, who was tied up with Brave Blossoms commitments.

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In that series, Dermody led the Highlanders through an unbeaten run against Australian opposition to qualify for the final, where they were ultimately defeated by the Blues at Eden Park in Auckland.

On the back of a dismal Super Rugby Pacific campaign, where they won just four out of 14 regular season matches before being walloped by the Blues in the quarter-finals, Dermody has a large task at hand to turn the fortunes of the Highlanders around.

However, the former two-time NPC title-winning Tasman co-coach is optimistic he can deliver success in his new role at the franchise.

“When I started with the Highlanders in 2014 it wasn’t with the purpose of someday being the head coach, I was just happy to get the opportunity to be involved with a club I have a genuine attachment with,” Dermody said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Over the last ten years or so that attachment has only strengthened through the good times and bad.

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“I believe in the club and the region it represents, I believe in the team and the players we have, and I believe that we can achieve success if we work hard and work smart.

“To get the opportunity to lead the team and coaching group is an honour and I am certainly looking forward to the hard work involved in putting together our 2023 season.”

Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark added that he was confident that they had hired the right man for the job, and that Dermody’s first port of call would be to build a roster and assemble a coaching group for next year’s Super Rugby Pacific.

“Clarke has served his apprenticeship with this club in every sense, firstly as a player and then as a coach,” Clark said.

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“He understands this club and the region we represent well. He has demonstrated his ability as a head coach with Tasman and when he took over during Super Rugby Trans-Tasman last season.

“He has shown he can get the best out of the people around him and we have faith in that ability to lead our club over the next few years.

“The appointment of Clarke is the first step; we are confident of assembling a coaching group that will drive consistent improvement in our team.

“We feel we have a playing group that has the potential to improve, and we just need to bring it to the fore week-to-week.”

New Zealand Rugby general manager of professional rugby and performance Chris Lendrum, meanwhile, was equally optimistic about Dermody’s appointment as the new Highlanders head coach.

“The Highlanders club are a proud club with ambitions to pursue greater success on the field in coming seasons and Clarke is the ideal person to lead the team into battle,” Lendrum said.

“His character, rugby knowledge from his storied playing career, and considerable coaching experience will be an asset, and his strong ties to the Highlanders region will be inspiring to the players who wear the club’s jersey over the next three years.”

The rest of the Highlanders coaching group, believed to be a team of five, is expected to be announced within the next month.

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