Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has signed with Japan it has been confirmed.
Joseph, who coached the Highlanders to their first ever Super Rugby title last season, will take up the reins of the Japanese national side at the end of the 2016 Super Rugby season.
Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark made the announcement in a statement on Allblacks.com.
"Obviously we have mixed emotions about Jamie moving on; we would have liked him to sign a new contract with our organization, however we understand his reasons for signing with Japan," Clark said.
The move ends Joseph's five-year stint with the Highlanders.
"The new challenge of international rugby and the opportunity to coach the host nation at a World Cup proved to be too enticing. We couldn’t have asked any more of Jamie over the last five years; he has put his heart and soul into this club and delivered a championship," Clark said.
"The timing of the announcement is not ideal but it clears up all the speculation of the last few weeks and I know Jamie well enough to know that he will continue to give everything he has to the Highlanders until that final whistle blows. That’s just who he is, so we have no concerns as a club on that front"
Joseph, who played for Japan at the 1999 World Cup, said the decision to leave the Highlanders was not an easy one.
"The decision to move on from the Highlanders was the toughest decision I have ever had to make in my coaching career. 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. I take great pride in what this club and all the people within it have been able to achieve in a relatively short time," Joseph said.
Clark said the search for a new head coach for the Highlanders would begin as soon as possible.