Former Crusaders and Wallaby coach Robbie Deans has emerged as a dark horse candidate to take over the Highlanders next season.

Deans - famously rejected as the All Blacks coach after the 2007 World Cup - could take over when Jamie Joseph leaves the 2015 champions to take up his new post in Japan.

Southern rugby commentator Paul Allison told Radio Sport's Crowd Goes Wild Breakfast while Joseph's assistant Tony Brown is widely regarded as the frontrunner, there are suggestions Brown is not sure if he is ready for a head coaching role yet.

Allison's sources claimed Deans was an "interested spectator" at the Highlanders v Waratahs warm-up match in Queenstown last month as part of "this whole recruitment process".


Allison said he was relying on smoke signals.

"I've heard he (Brown) doesn't want it yet - is not quite ready," said Allison.

Crowd Goes Wild Breakfast - Paul Allison: Could Deans coach the Highlanders?

"The man being spoken about as a possibility - and I've got nothing to back this up - is Robbie Deans. Robbie Deans is a compatible fit - he is well liked in this part of the world, understands the southern culture."

Allison understands there are five head coaching contenders, and Wayne Smith's name has also been "mentioned".