Dermody poised for top position

The Highlanders have appointed their new coach — and prepare for a surprise.

Baltemar Jose De Oliveira Brito has been appointed head coach on a two-year deal.

He replaces the outgoing Tony Brown ... fine, time to get serious.

Brito actually is the new Highlanders coach, but he has joined the other Highlanders, a football team based in Zimbabwe.

The question now is whether the more familiar Highlanders, the rugby team seeking to bounce back from a poor season, are going to make an appointment as unexpected as a random Brazilian.

If they do indeed have a surprise up their sleeve, they have done a magnificent job keeping it quiet.

The only major rumour doing the rounds has revolved around Chris Boyd, the former Hurricanes coach who has finished a stint as director of rugby at the Northampton Saints club in England.

Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark acknowledged he had spoken to Boyd but only as part of a sort of information-gathering exercise, and that Boyd was not being considered for a coaching role.

Former Highlanders coach Greg Cooper is between jobs but is not understood to be a contender, a suggestion highly regarded Crusaders assistant Andrew Goodman could be worth chasing has gone nowhere as Goodman is off to Ireland, and it is probably too soon for Otago and New Zealand under-21 coach Tom Donnelly.

Clarke Dermody.
Clarke Dermody.
The most likely candidate to replace Brown is his right-hand man, Clarke Dermody, and the Otago Daily Times understands an announcement on the head coaching role will be made today.

That might be seen as a low-key appointment given Dermody’s quiet nature and the fact, as assistant coach, he was part of a team that mostly underwhelmed this year.

But everything points to the amiable Southlander getting the top job and that being received very well in the Highlanders community.

Dermody (42), the former All Blacks and Highlanders prop, has paid his dues. He first joined the Highlanders in a scrum coaching role in 2014, after a playing career that included 44 games for the Highlanders, 92 for the Stags and more than 100 for London Irish.

He gradually took on more responsibilities with the forwards before graduating to assistant coach under Brown.

Dermody has also had a taste of head coaching duties already. He guided the Highlanders to five straight wins in the Super Rugby Transtasman competition last year when Brown returned to Japan.

Highlanders players, both in public and private, have made it clear they rate Dermody highly.

And, given the performance of the Highlanders forwards, and the rapid strides made by players such as Ethan de Groot and Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, it seems the coach knows what he is doing.

Dermody would become the first Southlander to be head coach of the Highlanders.

There is not the same Otago-Southland friction now the Highlanders are very much a separate entity but appointing a proud son of Southland would go down exceptionally well in a region that has not hosted a Super Rugby game in three years.

Dermody embodies all of the "Highlanders man" values the team rates so highly, and has already declared he is keen to take over from Brown.

A wildcard cannot be ruled out, especially as New Zealand Rugby pays the head coach’s wages and has a major say in the appointment.

It will also be fascinating to see what overall coaching structure the Highlanders put in place — could Brown retain some involvement as a sort of adviser, or will Boyd have an off-field role? — and whether Dermody gets some new faces to help him.

Getting a coach in place is the priority, but player recruitment will also became a major focus.




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