Wellington - Super Rugby-winning coach Jamie Joseph will take over Japan's national team later this year after overseeing the Highlanders' title defence, the Dunedin-based club said on Thursday.
New Zealander Joseph, who steered the Highlanders to a maiden Super title last year, replaces Australian Eddie Jones, who left the Brave Blossoms after the Rugby World Cup to coach England.
The 46-year-old represented both the All Blacks and Japan during his playing career, packing down in the forward line for the Blossoms at the 1999 World Cup.
He also speaks fluent Japanese and has previously coached club rugby in Japan.
Joseph, who arrived at the Highlanders in 2011, said it was tough to move on after a breakthrough season in 2015 but the lure of international rugby was too strong.
"For me the challenge of the next few years with Japan is what I need to keep moving forward," he said.
"International rugby is completely different from coaching at Super Rugby level and brings with it a whole new set of challenges which I am keen to tackle."
Joseph will stay with the Highlanders until the end of the Super Rugby season before taking the reins in Japan.
Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark conceded the situation was not ideal but said he had no doubts about Joseph's commitment for the 2016 season.
"Obviously we have mixed emotions about Jamie moving on - we would have liked him to sign a new contract with our organisation - however, we understand his reasons for signing with Japan," he said.