The Highlanders’ trans-Tasman Super Rugby campaign has taken a hit before the competition has even begun with coach Tony Brown departing earlier than planned and expected to miss the entire tournament.
The Highlanders confirmed today Brown will leave the southern franchise immediately to join up with Jamie Joseph – a former Highlanders coach – with the Brave Blossoms in Japan.
Brown will assist Joseph in preparing the Japanese team for their Test against the British and Irish Lions in Edinburgh on June 26 in a match considered to be a warm-up for the European squad before their tour of South Africa.
Despite his departure, Brown will still have daily input in the running of the Highlanders remotely but the reins will be handed over to assistant Clarke Dermody for the most part.
Brown admitted the situation wasn’t ideal.
"Having to head to Japan earlier than expected is disappointing particularly leaving my team before the end of the season, it's not what anyone would have wanted,” he said.
“I will be in touch with Clarke and the other coaches on a daily basis and I am positive they will respond well to the situation."
Brown said part of the reason for his sudden departure is Japan’s disrupted preparations for the historic match with the team unable to come together as a squad since 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Even though the Lions match has only recently been finalised it's unfortunate that the Japanese preparation has been so limited we will need to go into an intense camp almost immediately to get organised."
Highlanders CEO Roger Clark is taking a pragmatic approach to the disruption.
"No one could have predicted it would come to this, due to the pandemic the Lions tour itinerary has been completely up in the air for the better part of a year. The way it has worked out means Brownie's international obligations suddenly overlap with his Super Rugby duties which obviously is a situation that doesn't sit comfortably with anyone."
"However, as an organisation we know we still have his services even though he is not on the ground with us, we have every faith in Clarke and the coaching and management group to deal with the challenge."
The Highlanders first game is against the Queensland Reds in Dunedin next Friday.