By Adrian Seconi
The Highlanders have a new leader and he is the old enemy.
Former All Blacks and Crusaders midfielder Aaron Mauger has been appointed Highlanders coach on a three-year deal.
The 36-year-old became the favourite to replace the Japan-bound Tony Brown when news broke in mid-June that Highlanders assistant coach Scott McLeod was also leaving the franchise.
"I'm very excited about joining the Highlanders' family," Mauger said. "The whole organisation is pretty well set up so I think we're in a really good position to launch forward over the next couple of years."
Mauger made more than 80 appearances for the Crusaders between 2000 and 2007 and played 46 games for the All Blacks. He had a reputation as a heady player and had three seasons with the Leicester Tigers before retiring due to back issues in 2010.
He had a brief coaching stint with the Crusaders before joining Leicester's coaching staff in 2015.
He was overlooked for the top job at Leicester earlier this year but signed with the Highlanders in May as an assistant coach.
Unlike Brown or previous Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph, Mauger does not have a history with the franchise. He was part of a dominant Crusaders team and may have to work hard to get fans on his side.
"Hopeful [they will react] in a good way if we do a good job," Mauger said. "I'm totally committed to making sure we are playing a brand on rugby that they will enjoy coming to watch and supporting."
Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark revealed yesterday fellow Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett had help cleared the way for Mauger to get the top job.
"In the end it was pretty easy, really," Clark said when asked about the process.
"Mark, Aaron and myself sat down together and had a little bit of a chat and Mark really led that discussion."
Hammett advised he would like to continue in his role as forwards coach and felt Mauger "had the right skill set to be the head coach", Clark said.
Highlanders scrum coach Clarke Dermody and high performance development coach Jon Preston will continue in their roles but the franchise is still looking to replace defence coach McLeod.