Joseph focused on Landers, but has eye on ABs

Jamie Joseph watches the Highlanders prepare for their opening game this season. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Jamie Joseph watches the Highlanders prepare for their opening game this season. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Jamie Joseph is keen to coach the All Blacks, but he is solely focused on the Highlanders for now.

Joseph is back with the Highlanders for a second term after a successful six-year stint at test level with Japan, and naturally there is interest in whether he still harbours ambitions to have some involvement with the All Blacks after missing out on the top job to Scott Robertson last year.

"The All Blacks are a special team, and I do have an aspiration of coaching at the international level again," Joseph told the Otago Daily Times yesterday.

"For a New Zealander coaching Super Rugby, that’s an obvious goal for all of us.

"But I’m not naive. This is a very strong coaching team. I’ve worked with a lot of those guys who are coaching with Scott Robertson. That’s a very high-quality staff he’s got around him, and I expect him to do really well.

"I’m not focusing on the All Blacks. I really want to just focus back on the Highlanders and rip into it."

Joseph’s first spell at the Highlanders, from 2011 to 2016, was not all plain sailing, a notable low point being the disastrous 2013 season when something of an all-star team plunged to 14th in a 15-team competition.

Two years later, an improbable championship was won, and Joseph was soon at the top table with Japan.

The years since have brought only moderate success for the Highlanders, who showed some signs of progress this season — the second under head coach Clarke Dermody, who will step down to be Joseph’s assistant — but could still only finish sixth, and in reality were quite some distance behind the better teams.

The Highlanders are investing heavily in youth following Joseph’s decision, firstly as head of rugby and now back as coach, to look to the future.

"I just felt, being responsible for recruiting, that we kind of had to start again.

"We’ve tried to fill gaps in the past with returning players or international players, and I guess we’ve had times when it worked, but not enough to build a club.

"Our board want us to play a brand of rugby and build the club into a force in the future, and my role is to recruit young and to build from the bottom up."

Joseph will continue to drive the recruitment process.

He feels it is a major role of being a coach, and that he should be accountable for developing Highlanders players.

"The biggest skill you have to have is identifying what that looks like at the start, then nurturing and developing those guys, and I’ve had reasonable success of doing that in the past."

Recruitment was a lot harder than it was, Joseph said, and the Highlanders were aware of the challenges they faced as a small-market team.

"If you look at experience and ability defined by how many All Blacks we have compared to the other teams — even the Crusaders — we’ve got one. That shows how difficult it is.

"We’ve got to identify the right sort of blokes in terms of their skillset, their mentality, their desire to be better, and coach them. Things won’t happen overnight."

Dermody will be Joseph’s forwards coach, which suggests Tom Donnelly may not return to the staff.

Dave Dillon (defence) and Ben Smith will remain assistants, but the Highlanders are on the hunt for an attack coach to replace Kenny Lynn, who left after a single season to join Argentina.

Do not expect Joseph’s long-serving right-hand man, Tony Brown, to immediately return to the Highlanders, although the Springboks assistant is never far from the club’s thoughts.

"I think Browny has made it really clear that he loves the international game. My conversations with Browny have been around that’s where he wants to coach.

"I don’t envisage him going from coaching the best team in the world to coming home right now.

"But I have no doubt in the future he’ll be doing something like that."

Dermody is on leave with his family, but said in a statement he understood the reasons for the coaching shake-up.

“It’s a change that Jamie discussed with me, and while I am very proud of what we achieved this season, I accept the view that it will be of benefit to the club to have his coaching influence on the team next year," Dermody said.

"From that perspective, I believe it’s a positive step and I’m happy to support the move in the best interests of the club.

"We all learned a lot this year and the benefits of that experience will pay dividends for us next year. Personally, I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with Jamie in unleashing the potential within the team next season."