Jamie Joseph set to become head coach of Japan national team

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Dunedin-based Highlanders have said Super Rugby-winning coach and former All Blacks backrower is set to take over as head coach of the Japan national team.

Joseph, who played 20 tests for New Zealand and nine for Japan, will take up the appointment at the end of the 2016 Super Rugby season. He replaces Eddie Jones, who guided Japan at last year's Rugby World Cup and is now head coach of England.

Highlanders CEO Roger Clark pre-empted an announcement in Japan of Joseph's appointment when he released a statement Thursday which, he said, "clears up all the speculation of the last few weeks."

"Obviously we have mixed emotions about Jamie moving on," Clarke said. "We would have liked him to sign a new contract with our organization, however we understand his reasons for signing with Japan."

Joseph is about to begin his sixth season as Highlanders coach after leading the team to its first-ever Super Rugby title last year. He has previously coached in Japan, guiding the Fukuoka Sanix Blues beween 1995 and 2000.

Joseph played for the All Blacks between 1992 and 1995, then made nine appearances for Japan in 1999 at a time when playing international rugby for more than one nation was still possible.

He coached Wellington province and the New Zealand Maori before joining the Highlanders in 2011.

Joseph said the decision to leave the Highlanders was difficult.

"The club, the players and the people I have worked with over the last five years mean a great deal to me and the tought of that coming to an end is tough," he said. "International rugby is completely different from coaching at Super Rugby level and brings a whole new set of challenges which I am keen to tackle."

Joseph joins a Japan team on a high after the Rugby World Cup. Japan upset two-time champion South Africa in their opening Cup match in Britain, but narrowly failed to qualify for the tournament quarterfinals.

The inclusion of a Japan-based team in the Super Rugby competition for the first time this year — coached by another former All Black, Mark Hammett — is likely to further increase the profile of Japanese rugby.

Japan will also host the next World Cup in 2019.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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