WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Otago Highlanders assistant coach Tony Brown sees the same kind of championship-winning potential in his squad as the one he helped build with Jamie Joseph that went on to clinch their first Super Rugby title in 2015.
The Highlanders lost several experienced players, including All Blacks' Ben Smith, Liam Squire, Luke Whitelock and Waisake Naholo, at the end of 2019 and pundits predicted they would struggle by having to field an influx of new players this year.
Brown told reporters ahead of their Super Rugby Aotearoa clash with the Canterbury Crusaders on Saturday that the challenge was to bring in 20 new players and build a side in a matter of months.
"We are trying to build this team and it is going to take a couple of years to build it into a championship-winning team," he said.
"It's no different to where we were in 2014 and 2015 when we were trying to build a quality team. We're at the stage where I think things are coming together quite nicely."
After reshaping the side from 2014 and winning the title the following year Joseph and Brown left for roles with the Japan Rugby Union in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
However, the foundations they put down ensured the Highlanders made the playoffs every year since.
They began the full Super Rugby competition this year with just one win in six games before it was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak but beat the Waikato Chiefs then lost narrowly to the unbeaten Auckland Blues in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
"I think we're making progress," Brown said. "You always want to have a crack at the title but realistically you have to build a championship-winning team.
"We have got the guys to form a nucleus for that and we have to just add a few more different pieces and then I think we will be title contenders."
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)