Former Highlanders assistant Jon Preston left franchise to chase bigger things
Former Highlanders high performance coach Jon Preston didn't spit the dummy and leave the Dunedin-based franchise after missing out on a new role.
When his departure was announced last week - the day after Canterbury coach Glenn Delaney was named as the Highlanders' new defence coach - there was speculation that was the case.
However, Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said Preston did not apply for the role vacated by new All Blacks defence coach Scott McLeod, and instead had his eyes on becoming a head coach.
"The role he's had, he's been doing it for five years. He's looking to extend himself," Clark said.
"He's still doing some contractual work with me around high performance. We're trying to promote him locally to help out with either one of our Mitre 10 Cup teams (Otago and Southland) if required. But obviously he's looking at options of being a head coach."
That seemingly rules out Preston, a former All Blacks and Canterbury halfback, from moving north to join the Crusaders, who are seeking an assistant coach in the wake of Leon MacDonald's departure.
In a flurry of coaching changes at the Highlanders, Crusaders and Canterbury last week, assistant backs coach MacDonald announced last Friday he was cutting short his two-year deal with the Super Rugby champions to return with his family to Blenheim.
Like Preston, MacDonald wants to be a head coach and will continue coaching Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup for at least the next couple of years.
Clark wants to name Preston's replacement by the end of the month so his full coaching group can assemble in Dunedin by the middle of November. Pre-season training starts early December.
New head coach Aaron Mauger and second year assistant Mark Hammett are already on deck, while Delaney will shift south after Canterbury's NPC campaign finishes later this month.
Otago coach Cory Brown, who has maintained all year he wants to make the step up to Super Rugby, is a likely contender to join the Highlanders, and is understood to have already been in talks with the franchise.
Meanwhile, Clark said Mauger, Hammett and scrum coach Clarke Dermody had been indulging in the Mitre 10 Cup as they go about filling the final few spots of their 2018 roster
"Everybody is searching for a wee gold nugget out of the last couple of selections out of Mitre 10 Cup, that's why they all spend so much time on this part of the season," he said.
"I think they spend about 80 per cent of their time on the last few players. All the coaches are trying to get that one guy they see as maybe having potential to take the next step and assisting the team with their performance the following year."
New Zealand franchises will lock in their 38-strong rosters on October 31, three days after the NPC wraps up.
Like last season, the Highlanders will go into next year's revised Super 15 without one of their loose forwards.
Otago flanker James Lentjes has been plagued by a shoulder injury and is set to go under the knife this week. Clark confirmed the 26-year-old, who missed most of last season with a dislocated elbow, won't be ready to play until at least April.
The Highlanders' first game of the season is a home fixture against the Blues on February 23.
There could also be a question mark over prop Daniel Lienert-Brown, who has been ruled out of Canterbury's NPC campaign with a lingering neck injury, although Clark isn't entirely sure what his status is.
"As far as I know, he's going to be all good for Super Rugby," he said. "But the medical team isn't with us at the moment, so we'll wait and see when we get a chance to assess those guys coming back in November."