Tony Brown: ‘I’ll be back’
A promising season died with a whimper in the Christchurch rain, so perhaps it’s no wonder Tony Brown plans to one-day return and have another crack at coaching the Highlanders.
The 42-year-old made the statement within an hour of his first season in charge of the Dunedin-based franchise ending with an ugly 17-0 quarterfinal loss to the Crusaders on Saturday night.
Brown is off to Tokyo to assist Japan coach Jamie Joseph, who he worked under with the Highlanders between 2014-16, through to the end of 2019.
His departure means the Highlanders have lost two head coaches to Japan in as many years, while assistant coach Scott McLeod is also leaving the franchise to replace departing All Blacks defence coach Wayne Smith. ‘‘It’s all over, but I will be back. I love coaching the Highlanders and I definitely want to carry on coaching them in the future,’’ Brown said after his team’s third loss to the Crusaders this season buried their campaign at AMI Stadium.
‘‘For me, it’s been a great season and I’ve enjoyed coaching this group of guys. It wasn’t the way we wanted to finish but I think we performed really well this year.’’
Brown, who was initially reluctant to take the head coaching job when Joseph announced he was leaving last year, isn’t on the first plane to Japan. He will play a major role in the season review, and take a break, before joining Joseph and taking up his assistant coaching gig in time for November tests against Australia and France.
‘‘No regrets. I’m very proud to have coached the Highlanders and, like I said, I want to come back and coach them again. It’s the team I love and all the players in the changing room [on Saturday night] have done the Highlanders jersey proud over the last eight to nine months.’’
Whether or not Brown, who aspires to be the best attack-coach in the world, does lead the Highlanders again could depend on whether or not he and/or Joseph put their hands up for the All Blacks coaching job when Steve Hansen finishes up after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Both will have international experience on their CV by then, and both have admitted coaching at the top level in New Zealand is on their agenda. Played in heavy rain and swirling winds, Saturday night’s comprehensive defeat marked just the second time in history the Highlanders didn’t score a single point in a match.
The last time they finished with a doughnut was in 2010, when the Stormers dished up a 33-0 spanking in Cape Town.
Brown lamented his team’s poor discipline, wonky lineout and shaky scrum, but hailed the Crusaders’ performance as ‘‘awesome’’.
In addition to Brown and McLeod leaving, a bunch of players – Malakai Fekitoa, Marty Banks, Patrick Osborne and Siosuia Halanukonuka – are also set to farewell the team.
Following their end-of-season function, the focus will quickly shift to the season review and appointing Brown’s replacement.
Former All Black and Crusader Aaron Mauger is the frontrunner to take over, and Brown was quick to mention his name when discussing the future.