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Report: Ex-Highlanders head coach set for Moana Pasifika job

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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Former Highlanders boss Aaron Mauger is reportedly set to be confirmed as the inaugural Moana Pasifika head coach.


According to RNZ, New Zealand Rugby [NZR] is set to announce the Super Rugby expansion franchise will be given the green light to compete in next year’s revamped edition of the competition on Monday.

The report comes three months after NZR granted conditional licences to Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua to join a 12-team version of Super Rugby, which will also feature 10 existing franchises from New Zealand and Australia.

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Flying Fijians coach Vern Cotter on the need for his team to play top teams regularly
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Flying Fijians coach Vern Cotter on the need for his team to play top teams regularly

The licences were issued to Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua provided that they prove their financial viability and Rugby Australia [RA] signs off of their addition to the competition.

It was expected both teams would be confirmed to compete in next year’s Super Rugby by the end of June, but complications over the tournament’s format has led to a delay of that announcement.

However, RNZ reports confirmation of Moana Pasifika’s inclusion is set to be announced on Monday, which will allow the franchise to begin player recruitment for its debut season in Super Rugby.

Moana Pasifika’s off-field recruitment drive has reportedly already begun, though, as, according to RNZ, Monday’s announcement will also unveil Mauger as the franchise’s first-ever full-time head coach.


The former All Blacks five-eighth, who is of Samoan and Cook Islander descent, was part of the Moana Pasifika coaching set-up for last year’s one-off clash against the Maori All Blacks and has plenty of experience to his name.

After first entering the realm of professional coaching as Crusaders assistant coach in 2013, Mauger was appointed as Leicester Tigers head coach in 2015.

It was at Welford Road where the 40-year-old won the now-defunct Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2017, the same year of which he departed England to replace Tony Brown as Highlanders head coach ahead of the 2018 Super Rugby season.

Mauger struggled for results during his three-year tenure at the helm of the Dunedin-based franchise as he accrued just 20 wins from 48 matches between 2018 and 2020.


The Highlanders opted against renewing the 46-test international’s contract beyond last year, leaving Mauger to take up coaching and mentoring roles at John McGlashan College.

Mauger also acts as a coaching advisor to Kaikorai in the Dunedin club competition, while he also has international coaching experience as Manu Samoa assistant coach in 2017.

RNZ reports former All Blacks loose forward Filo Tiatia will also be announced as Mauger’s assistant coach on Monday.

It comes just months after Tiatia resigned from his role as Auckland assistant coach amid a breakdown of relationships between players and coaches at the provincial union.

Tiatia, the older brother of ex-Manu Samoa hooker Ace, has almost a decade-and-a-half of professional coaching experience in New Zealand, Japan and Wales.

In addition to his previous role with Auckland, the 50-year-old has also acted as an assistant coach for United Rugby Championship (formerly PRO14) club Ospreys, Top League side Toyota Verblitz, axed Super Rugby franchise, the Sunwolves, and the Japan national side.

As a head coach, Tiatia, who played two tests for the All Blacks in 2000, took charge of Toyota Verblitz between 2012 and 2015 and the Sunwolves in 2017.

It remains unclear whether Monday’s reported announcement will provide an update on the admission status of the Fijian Drua, which is in talks with numerous private investors and is receiving funds from the Australian government.

A decision on the format of next year’s Super Rugby, meanwhile, is expected in the near future as Stuff reports NZR is open to RA’s request for an eight-team play-offs structure, which would follow a singular round-robin regular season.

Such a set-up would ensure at least one Australian team will participate in the post-season, which would alleviate concerns from RA about a lopsided competition following New Zealand’s dominance in this year’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.


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