On Thursday evening, the Highlanders announced that head coach Aaron Mauger would be parting ways with the Super Rugby franchise.

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The Highlanders achieved two quarter-final finishes in the first two years of Mauger’s regime but were hit hard in the latest off-season, losing the likes of Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo and Luke Whitelock overseas.

Those losses left Mauger with a massive rebuild on his hands and the early season results weren’t especially favourable, with the Highlanders booking a sole victory from four attempts. The former All Blacks midfielder appeared to turn things around before Super Rugby Aotearoa kicked off, however, and the Highlanders picked up three wins from their eight matches.

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That evidently wasn’t a good enough turn around for the Highlanders powers that be, however, and New Zealand’s southernmost franchise is now on the lookout for a new head coach.

Assistants Clarke Dermody and Tony Brown will remain on the books, but former Highlanders coach Laurie Mains has suggested that the best man to take over the team could be the only man that’s ever led the team to a Super Rugby championship.

“I just wonder with Japan really winding back their activities in rugby, I just wonder if Jamie Joseph might be on the radar, given that him and Tony Brown have proved to be a formidable combination,” Mains said.

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Mains coached the Highlanders for two years in the early 2000 – almost ten years after he’d last coached the New Zealand nation side.

Following last year’s incredibly successful Rugby World Cup, Japan’s Top League has attracted massive crowds. The season was called off earlier this year due to COVID-19 and the Sunwolves have also played their final Super Rugby season.

There are suggestions that even next year’s Top League competition could be threatened by the coronavirus pandemic.

Joseph has remained head coach of the Japanese national side following last year’s quarter-final finish at the World Cup and previously coached the Highlanders from 2011 until 2016, winning the Super Rugby title in 2015.

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While the Highlanders would no doubt love to bring Joseph back to New Zealand, the coach has previously spoken of how much he enjoys taking charge of the Brave Blossoms – and turned down the opportunity to interview for the All Blacks coaching role due to his loyalties to Japan.

“The decision was really difficult,” Joseph told the Otago Daily Times earlier this year. “In hindsight, I feel that the landscape for coaches overseas has really changed, there’s a lot of New Zealand coaches that are coaching all over the world, and the process in New Zealand didn’t really allow me to consider it seriously enough.

“What I mean by that is, applying for a job and applying for a job at the same time you’re applying for another job doesn’t show much loyalty.

“I guess one of those values that we [Joseph and Tony Brown] learned at Otago back in the day when we were coming up through the ranks was loyalty is a big factor, just because it is professional, for me it’s really important.”

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