Highlanders 2021 coaching staff

With the uncertainty around whether this weekend’s games go ahead or not, I thought we might as well discuss the future:

This year Aaron Mauger’s contract as Highlanders head coach expires. The Highlanders board will soon decide whether to renew it for 2021 and beyond.

Mauger’s winning percentage sits at just 40% (2018-2020). This is a decrease from 69% from Tony Brown (2017) and 53% from Joseph (2010-2016).

The Highlanders have won just 2 games in 2020 (including pre-Covid results), even the Chiefs won 4 games pre-Covid including win over Crusaders.

Personally, I believe Mauger’s time as head coach is up. The Highlanders have only gotten worse each year since Brown stood down as head coach in 2017.

I’ve canvassed some potential options to replace him as Highlanders head coach, assisting Brown until 2022 and potentially beyond.

  • Pat Lam (Bristol Bears)
  • Kieran Keane (North Harbour)
  • John McKee (off-contract)
  • Cory Brown (Japan Top League - Mannix Blues)
  • Jono Gibbes (Top 14 - La Rochelle)
  • Dave Dillion (Japan Top League - current Kolbe Steelers head coach)
  • Tabai Matson (rumored to be shafted by Chiefs in 2021)
  • Daryl Gibson (current Fiji attack coach under Vern Cotter)
  • Milton Haig (Japan Top League - Suntory Sungoliath head coach)
  • Jason O’Halloran (Suntory Sungoliath assistant coach)

We can pretty much already rule-out both Haig and O’Halloran since they only began their (2 year minimum) contract for Suntory last year.

One of the best up-and-coming NZ coaches Clayton McMillan is being groomed as Chiefs head coach post-Gatland, so unfortunately he’s out of the equation for now.

Another option is to re-unite Tasman Mako’s title winning coaching duo of 2019, Andrew Goodman and Clarke Dermody. Goodman is the current defense coach at the Crusaders, while Dermody has been the Highlanders scrum coach since 2013.

Another more bolder option is to copy the Blues template, do a Umaga/Rangi of 2019 and demote Mauger to assistant coach, while promoting Dermody to head coach.

This could actually work very well because Mauger has significantly improved the Highlanders defense since taking over after Delany moved on in 2019. This is the one area Mauger has excelled in 2020. But to be a successful head coach you need good man-management skills also. For the betterment of the Highlanders, I believe Mauger should move to a specialist defense role.

Mauger’s problem is said to be man-management and selection related, sources have indicated there is increasing unrest among the Highlanders players with regards to Mauger’s contradictory methods, he is alleged to say one thing one week then change his mind. Players are frustrated to find themselves on the outer after being selected one week then suddenly dropped again the next. There has been little continuity in Highlanders selections until these last 2 rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Tony Brown is contracted as Highlanders assistant coach until at least 2022. Word is Dermody will likely be promoted to forwards coach in 2021 as Mark Hammett is leaving the Highlanders after this Saturday’s match. Due to Tasman forwards coach Shane Christie’s relationship with Dermody, I think it’s possible Christie could be joining the Highlanders next year.

Most likely out-come for 2021: Aaron Mauger (head+defense), Tony Brown (attack), Clarke Dermody (scrum+forwards coach), Shane Christie (ass. forwards coach).

What my preference would be: Clarke Dermody (head coach+forwards), Tony Brown (attack), Andrew Goodman (ass.backs, skills, individual player development), Aaron Mauger (defense), Shane Christie (ass. forwards). Re-unite the Tasman title-winning staff of 2019, let’s make it happen!

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