World Cup-winning former Springboks and Brumbies coach Jake White, and Scotland director of rugby Scott Johnson, have emerged as potential replacements for under-fire Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, who will front the Rugby Australia board next month.
With Australia’s 37-18 loss to England on Saturday, Cheika’s win rate crashed to 48.3 per cent after four years and 58 tests in charge.
Though he has received repeated public backing from RA chief executive Raelene Castle, she and the RA board will come under fierce pressure to make some changes to the Wallabies coaching set up after the team’s season ended with nine losses from 13 tests and rumours of internal discord.
Fairfax Media understands that while a formal review has not been announced, it is likely to come when the RA board next meets, on December 10.
There is no guaranteed outcome to the meeting but Fairfax Media can reveal that both White and Johnson are known to be interested in Cheika’s job.
Fairfax Media understands White, who is in Japan coaching Toyota Verblitz, is open to coaching the Wallabies but, with one year left on his current contract, would be less interested in an interim role. He is not believed to have had any formal contact with RA.
White lost out to Ewen McKenzie in the race to replace Robbie Deans when the New Zealander resigned after the 2013 series loss to the British and Irish Lions. In a similar mould to Cheika, White is seen as a coach who gets rapid results with underperforming sides. He guided South Africa to their 2007 World Cup win after assembling a coaching line up that included Eddie Jones as technical advisor.
Johnson, who has worked with Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend to turn the small test nation into Six Nations and World Cup contenders over the past few years, has been linked to a move back to Australia for some time. The former New South Wales captain, who has spent the past 12 years overseas, was targeted by RA for a role with Queensland but appears to have been holding out for something bigger.
Jones would also be an obvious target for Rugby Australia, although he remains contracted to England until 2021. He is still considered a polarising figure in many rugby circles back home, having previously coached the Wallabies between 2001 and 2005.
Whether the RA board have the appetite to sack Cheika remains to be seen, despite the Wallabies’ poor record this year that will go down in the history books as Australia’s worst since 1958 in a season in which more than 10 tests were played.
The other option could be to keep the Super Rugby and European Champions Cup winner on until his foreshadowed exit after the World Cup, but inject fresh ideas into the setup.
In that scenario, attack coach Stephen Larkham and defence coach Nathan Grey, both of whom have been with the side on some basis since 2015, are most vulnerable.
The Australian system is full of promising younger coaches, such as Rebels head coach Dave Wessels and the Waratahs newest recruit, Chris Whitaker, who returned from France for a job as attack coach with NSW. Whitaker’s stablemate, defence coach Simon Cron, is also touted as a future head coach, while the Brumbies’ Dan McKellar, new Queensland defence coach Peter Ryan and attack coach Jim McKay are rated highly by Rugby Australia’s high-performance department.