Tony Brown emerges as leading candidate for Leinster post

Former All Black outhalf credited with scintillating form of Highlanders’ backline

Former All Black outhalf Tony Brown has emerged as a leading candidate to become the next Leinster head coach. The 40-year-old, who only retired in 2011, despite winning the last of 18 New Zealand caps in 2001, has already made an impressive impact as Otago coach.

This season he was added to the Highlanders backroom staff where he’s been credited with the scintillating form of their backline.

With Robbie Deans, the initial favourite to succeed Matt O'Connor, and former Leinster forwards coach Jono Gibbes, having signed a new contract with ASM Clermont Auvergne, both ruled out of consideration, Brown comes with a similar profile to previously successful Leinster coaches Michael Cheika and Joe Schmidt.

Neither Schmidt nor Cheika held significant head coaching roles before their arrival in Dublin.


Brown has guided Otago to the play-offs in 2012 and 2013, and also captured the Ranfurly Shield for the first time in 56 years, all this following six years as player-coach with Sanyo Wild Knights in Japan.

But it’s the Highlanders revival this season that has enhanced his reputation as an innovative attacking coach in the Schmidt mould.

Currently fourth in the table, the franchise last reached a Super Rugby final in 1999 when Brown was their resident outhalf.

“Browny is a student of the game,” said Lima Sopoaga, the current Highlanders outhalf in a recent interview. “He’s always thinking of ways to outsmart people. Even though he played (with physicality), his coaching style doesn’t reflect that. He’s a very smart coach.

“Browny is all about the three point attack. You can go through them, around them or behind them and that’s what we’re trying to do. It doesn’t matter where we are on the field, we feel like the three options are always available to us.”

Sounds a lot like the Leinster way under Schmidt. His credentials seem to make him an immediate boon to the returning Johnny Sexton and Ian Madigan.

“Browny comes up with plays that really excite us all,” Sopoaga continued. “That’s what I think is coming out in our game. Players are excited because we want to do these cool moves and we are challenging ourselves to execute them as best we can.

“I guess that creativity can disappear in professional rugby, but it doesn’t disappear from Browny. He’s always dreaming up new ways to score tries or new moves. It’s good fun.”

Brown also played a season in South Africa with the Stormers before moving to Japan.

That he's an expert backs coach, and considering the departure of scrum coach Marco Caputo will be covered by John Fogarty's promotion, his appointment would allow Leinster maintain their current indigenous coaching structures with Leo Cullen overseeing the forwards, which would have proved difficult if Gibbes returned, while adhering to a recruitment formula that has proved extremely successful.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent