New Highlanders coach relishes the challenge

New Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
New Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Clarke Dermody will take a little something from every coach he has worked with at the Highlanders.

But he will also be his own man.

The humble but increasingly confident former All Blacks prop was yesterday named the new Highlanders coach, replacing Tony Brown, on a three-year deal.

It was a widely forecast announcement as Dermody, a veteran of nine seasons on the team’s staff, did such a fine job as stand-in head coach for six games in 2021 and shaped as an obvious successor to Brown.

"I’m very humbled to get the opportunity to lead a club that has been a huge part of my life," he said yesterday.

"The Highlanders have given me everything, both as a player and as a coach. It gave me the opportunity to travel, and to set my family up.

"I will do anything I can do to get this club better, and get it into a winning state.

"I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I have worked with some legends of the club as players and coaches, and while I will be my own man, I’ve got a lot of experience to call on."

Dermody’s full coaching staff — including the likely appointment of a wise head as an adviser — will not be revealed for a week or two.

He said he was hugely grateful to the three recent Highlanders coaches for challenging and supporting him.

He recalled how his career started with the team when he got tapped on the shoulder by Jamie Joseph.

"We were at a test dinner in Dunedin. I’d never met the guy and he asked me to come and take a couple of scrums for the Highlanders.

"As I was driving home, he rang me and said, ‘Yep, the boys really liked that, do you want to come on Thursday?’ And that was how my coaching career started with the Highlanders."

Aaron Mauger was big on that word beloved by so many modern coaches, process, and Dermody related to that.

Brown, famously, was all about innovation and a deep thinker on the game.

Dermody said his priorities were simple.

"Through hard work, and consistency in our process through the week, I feel like we will get performances.

"What does that look like on the field? Strong set piece, physical at the breakdown and in the tackle. Those are the building blocks to play an exciting brand of rugby under the roof if we can."

The Highlanders were not particularly potent in Brown’s final season, winning just four of 15 games and struggling to play with much verve and enterprise.

Dermody acknowledged nobody was delighted with how the year unfolded and that he had a big job ahead.

"But I’m really excited with the group we’ve got.

"We know we’ve got to be better. But we feel, with the nucleus of the players we’ve got, we’re in for an exciting three years."

Dermody and family have lived in Dunedin for six years.

He remains a Southlander at heart, and is the first man from the region to coach the Highlanders.

"It’s always good for the Highlanders to have close ties to the Southland region.

"I know my old man and his group of mates at the Northern, they’ve got the Highlanders at the forefront of their mind every Friday night."

The question now is which mates Dermody will have around him, as skills coach Riki Flutey is the only other coach contracted for 2023.

Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said an announcement on the full coaching staff was likely within a couple of weeks.

When Clark was at Southland rugby, he signed Dermody as a player 23 years ago, and said he was delighted to see him come so far.

"He’s a real Highlander man, and a guy that has done his apprenticeship for nine years.

"He’s had a proven track record as a head coach with Tasman and also taking over from Browny for the transtasman part of the Super Rugby competition.

"The growth in the man has been amazing, and we’re really proud of that."

Clark said the Highlanders had six spots open in their playing roster for next year.

Clarke Dermody

New Highlanders coach

Age: 42.

Family: Wife Sarah, children Carter (15) and Maggie (12).

Playing career (prop): Southland (92 games), Highlanders (44), All Blacks (3), London Irish (108).

Coaching career: Southland assistant (2014), Highlanders scrum/forwards/assistant (2014-22), Tasman co-coach (2018-20), temporary Highlanders head coach (five
games in 2021).

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