Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has been confirmed to take over the Japan job after making what he describes as the hardest call of his coaching career.
Joseph will head to Japan, who host the next World Cup in 2019, at the end of the Super Rugby season, which the Highlanders will go into as defending champions.
“The decision to move on from the Highlanders was the toughest I have ever had to make in my coaching career,” he said.
“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.”
But Joseph also said a coach had to keep looking for the next challenge in order to grow and get better, and the international arena would be completely different from Super Rugby.
Joseph, 46, had been linked with the Japan position after Australian Eddie Jones left to take the helm of England in November.
Two months earlier, Jones had guided the Brave Blossoms to a huge World Cup upset, a stunning last-gasp 34-32 win over South Africa in Brighton.
Joseph played 20 Tests for New Zealand, the last being the 1995 World Cup final defeat to South Africa.
He went on to represent Japan at the 1999 World Cup and also played for and coached Japanese club Sannix.
He had a successful stint with New Zealand Maori and joined the Highlanders in 2011, taking them to the play-offs in the past two seasons and to their debut title last year.
Highlanders general manager Roger Clark said there were mixed emotions within the franchise about Joseph’s impending move to Japan, but Joseph’s reasons were understandable.
“The timing of the announcement is not ideal but it clears up all the speculation of the last few weeks,” he said.
“I know Jamie well enough to know that he will continue to give everything he has to the Highlanders until that final whistle blows.”
Clark said the search for Joseph’s replacement would begin in earnest as soon as possible, with a timeline to be mapped out.