Rugby: Joseph safe but assistants may not be so lucky

Jamie Joseph
Jamie Joseph
Jamie Joseph's water-tight contract makes him safe until the end of next year, but his assistants may not be so lucky.

Jon Preston and Scott McLeod have undergone a torrid first season at the Highlanders after moving themselves and their families to Dunedin.

Former All Black halfback Preston moved from Wellington and a job as a broadcaster for Sky Television, while McLeod, a former All Black midfield back, shifted from Hamilton and a role as assistant coach of Waikato. The pair, who replaced Simon Culhane and Kieran Keane, signed two-year contracts.

Despite several calls to the Highlanders franchise yesterday, chief executive Roger Clark could not be reached for comment in response to the revelations by APNZ that Joseph is effectively unsackable as coach. Joseph, whose contract runs out at the end of next year, negotiated the clause into his contract before agreeing terms before his first season in 2011.

Joseph, a former All Black and Highlanders loose forward, was lured from Wellington to replace former Highlanders coach Glenn Moore. He began his reign with a mid-table finish and a ninth-placed finish last season.

This year his side has been a candidate for the wooden spoon until its win over the Hurricanes last weekend lifted it off the bottom of the table.

It is understood both Preston and McLeod have been surprised by the workload involved in coaching at Super 15 level and while both will consider themselves better coaches as a result of their experiences this year - the Highlanders have won only three matches from 15 - much will depend on how they were rated by the players, feedback which the Highlanders board will examine with interest.

The board may feel Joseph needs more experience around him after a season notable not only for regular defeats but also poor on-field discipline.

Preston has had some involvement as a skills coach with Wellington but this is his first full-time coaching role.

He said in an interview in September last year he was surprised to be given a call-up by Joseph.

''It happened fairly recently actually. Jamie rang me out of the blue and asked if I was interested,'' Preston told the reporter.

''And, of course, we started talking. It's exciting.

''To get an opportunity like this - they don't necessarily come along that often. So you grab it and go for it.''

New Zealand's Super 15 franchises place enormous importance on players' views which is why they are surveyed at the end of every season. All management staff are scrutinised by the players, with results available to the chief executive and board of each team.

Daryl Gibson was a casualty at the Crusaders last season, despite his team finishing at the semifinal stage with a defeat to the Chiefs, the eventual champions, in Hamilton. Gibson, in charge of the backs, was demoted to a defence role by head coach Todd Blackadder but resigned and accepted a job as an assistant at the Waratahs.

Joseph and his assistants are in Melbourne preparing for their final match of the season against the Rebels tomorrow night.

- Axed Melbourne Rebels star James O'Connor will have to make his final appearance for the franchise from the bench in their Super Rugby clash against the Highlanders at AAMI Park tomorrow.

The Wallaby five-eighth's exclusion from the starting side comes just days after he was told he would not be offered a contract at the Rebels for 2014.

Also preparing for his last game with the Rebels, coach Damien Hill said O'Connor was on the bench because he had not been able to train with the team since being selected in the Wallabies for the Lions series in early June and had been fighting an injury this week.

''James wasn't able to train Monday and Tuesday which gives him only the captain's run to prepare,'' Hill said.

''He has done extremely well to make himself available on the bench. I know this is a match he is very keen to play in.''

Rebels team: Angus Roberts, Jason Woodward, Tom English, Rory Sidey, Cooper Vuna, Bryce Hegarty, Nick Phipps, Gareth Delve (c), Scott Fuglistaller, Jarrod Saffy, Cadeyrn Neville, Hugh Pyle, Laurie Weeks, Ged Robinson, Nic Henderson. Res: Shota Horie, Paul Alo-Emile, Luke Jones, Jordy Reid, Nic Stirzaker, James O'Connor, Kimami Sitauti.

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