Jamie Joseph could be heading back to coach the Highlanders.
The Super Rugby franchise released Aaron Mauger on Thursday after three years in charge.
Joseph coached the Highlanders from 2010 to 2016 and in that time helped guide the club to their one and only Super Rugby title in 2015.
He has been in Japan since and helped the Brave Blossoms to the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Cup.
Former Otago, Highlanders and All Blacks coach Laurie Mains believes Joseph could slot straight back in.
“I just wonder with Japan really winding back their activities in rugby, I just wonder if Jamie Joseph might be on the radar, given that him and Tony Brown have proved to be a formidable combination.”
Brown was an assistant to Joseph at the Highlanders between 2014 and 2016, was head coach in 2017 before heading to Japan to work with Joseph again.
He returned to New Zealand to be an assistant under Mauger this year.
With Mauger’s three-year contract coming to an end, the Super Rugby side and New Zealand Rugby on Thursday confirmed the former All Blacks midfielder would not be retained in the role.
In a joint statement, Mauger said he had enjoyed his time in charge of the team but was also being realistic.
“Results are key to proving the quality of the structures you have put in place as a head coach.
“As our on-field results during my tenure haven’t been at the level we’ve all aspired to, it’s the head coach who must take responsibility for that.
“I’ve worked with some top-quality people who are outstanding at what they do and I wish them all the best going forward.
“Some real progress has been made in critical areas to aid future success and I’m confident the club will benefit from this down the track.”
The Highlanders finished sixth and eighth during Mauger’s first two years at the helm, losing in the quarterfinals on both occasions.
This year they finished fourth out of five in Super Rugby Aotearoa, winning three of eight matches.
Highlanders CEO Roger Clark thanked Mauger for his moving the club forward during his three years as head coach.
Clark said the organisation would take its time before making a decision on a new appointment.
“We have a little bit of time before we need to make a final decision on our coaching structure for 2021. We are fortunate we have quality coaches in Tony Brown, Clarke Dermody and Riki Flutey still contracted.
“Over the next short period we will be reviewing our coaching structure and who and how many we add to our current group will depend on availability and our desire to get the balance of our coaching group right.”