Search begins for Highlanders new coach

Applications to inherit arguably the toughest job in New Zealand rugby closed yesterday as the process to replace Greg Cooper as the Highlanders head coach moved a step forward.

Just who is ready, willing and able to replace Cooper – who last month left the Super 14’s southern outpost for the Blues after four years in the top job – will be become more clearer when shortlisted candidates are interviewed on August 16.

The applicants had already lodged their expressions of interest with the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) before this afternoon’s deadline expired, but their identities have not be divulged.

Current Highlanders assistant coach Glenn Moore is expected to have put his hand up for the job but the selection process so far has been notable for those who have no intention of replacing Cooper.

Waikato’s Warren Gatland, Pat Lam, of Auckland, plus Simon Culhane and his Southland co-coach Dave Henderson have already ruled themselves out.

Northland’s Mark Anscombe is also considered a doubtful starter although there is still plenty of conjecture about who will take on the challenging assignment.

Otago’s Air New Zealand Cup coach Steve Martin is yet to declare his hand while speculation surrounds Murray Roulston’s status after his role as an assistant at the Hurricanes was advertised.

Roulston, who has been an assistant to Colin Cooper since 2003, previously worked together in Otago as a rugby development officer and could be seen as a potential foil for Martin.

Other candidates bandied about include North Harbour’s new head coach Wayne Pivac, given his path at the Blues is blocked in the first instance by Nucifora and then Auckland coach Lam.

Tasman’s Dennis Brown, a former assistant at the Chiefs, might also be interested in taking his coaching career to a higher level.

Highlanders chief executive Russell Gray hoped an appointment would be made by the end of this month so the chosen candidate could start putting next year’s squad together.

The selection committee will include Gray, Tony Gilbert, Highlanders chairman Stuart McLauchlan, NZRU high performance director Mike Chu and NZRU board member Graham Mourie.

Gray said the job had attracted a lot of interest from overseas although they are likely to be ruled out by a NZRU prerequisite which dictates applicants must have coached in the Air NZ Cup or Super 14 during the past 12 months.

NZPA & 365 Digital

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