Sunwolves head coach Tony Brown is being tipped to return to the Highlanders.

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The departure of defence coach Glenn Delaney to Welsh Pro14 side Scarlets at the end of the season has opened a vacancy in the Highlanders’ coaching set-up, and it is believed the Dunedin club want their former man to return to Forsyth Barr Stadium, according to the Otago Daily Times.

Having played 83 times for the club across two stints between 1996 and 2004, and then again in 2011, before joining as an assistant coach in 2014, which led into a head coaching role in 2017, Brown has deep-rooted ties with the Highlanders, but the main issue surrounding his return is the position of which he would take up.

Currently contracted as head coach of the Sunwolves and assistant coach of Japan until the end of this year, there are question marks about his transition from a head coaching position in Super Rugby back to an assistant role to fill the void left by Delaney.

Furthermore, Brown’s expertise as an assistant coach remains as an attack coach, yet the role left vacant by Delaney is as a defence coach.

With one year still remaining on the three-year contract of current head coach Aaron Mauger, the possibility of maintaining a head coaching role appears highly unlikely should Brown shift back to the Highlanders, but a re-shuffle among the coaching staff isn’t out of the question.

It’s not an unprecedented scenario, as Blues head coach Tana Umaga was demoted to assistant in place of the incoming Leon MacDonald ahead of this year’s Super Rugby campaign.

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The performance of Japan at this year’s World Cup is also expected to play a major role in Brown’s availability to the Highlanders, as a successful campaign in their home tournament could see his tenure with the Cherry Blossoms, alongside long-time coaching partner, former Highlanders and current Japan head coach Jamie Joseph, extended beyond 2019.

During his time as a player with the Highlanders, the Otago born-and-bred first-five steered the club to four play-offs, including an unsuccessful home final appearance in 1999, while as assistant and then head coach, he led them to another four post-season trips, which included their maiden Super Rugby title-winning season in 2015.

Since taking over from Brown as head coach ahead of last season, Mauger has struggled to replicate such success, as his side was bundled out of the competition at the quarter-final stage last year, and they continue to battle to make the top eight this year.

Highlanders CEO Roger Clark was unavailable for comment on Thursday when contacted by the ODT.

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