The Highlanders have confirmed that coach Jamie Joseph will leave at the end of the Super Rugby season to take up the role as Japan national coach.
A former Japan international, Joseph was first linked with the role in December, as the union began searching for a replacement for Eddie Jones, now the head coach of England. Joseph is in his sixth season with the Highlanders and has previously coached in Japan.
Highlanders CEO Roger Clark made the announcement today.
"The timing of the announcement is not ideal but it clears up all the speculation of the last few weeks and I know Jamie well enough to know that he will continue to give everything he has to the Highlanders until that final whistle blows. That's just who he is, so we have no concerns as a club on that front," Clark said.
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"Obviously we have mixed emotions about Jamie moving on; we would have liked him to sign a new contract with our organization, however we understand his reasons for signing with Japan."
The search for a new head coach will begin as soon as possible.
"Clearly in conjunction with the NZRU we will be mapping out a timeline for the appointment of a new head coach. It will be a thorough process and we will ensure the right person is appointed to lead the Highlanders through our next phase," Clark added.
Joseph said the decision to leave the Highlanders was not an easy one.
"The decision to move on from the Highlanders was the toughest decision I have ever had to make in my coaching career. The club, the players and the people I have worked with over the last five years mean a great deal to me and the thought of that coming to an end is tough. I take great pride in what this club and all the people within it have been able to achieve in a relatively short time," he said.
"International rugby is completely different from coaching at Super Rugby level and brings with it a whole new set of challenges which I am keen to tackle."