How McLennan departure could help Wallabies land ex-Ireland, All Blacks coach as Eddie’s replacement


Hamish McLennan’s departure as Rugby Australia chairman could clear the path for respected international coach Joe Schmidt to take over from Eddie Jones and take the Wallabies through to the next World Cup.

It comes after former All Blacks head coach Ian Foster and his assistant, Schmidt, were also linked to a role at French Top 14 side Montpellier.

Schmidt, 58, is off contract with New Zealand Rugby after being a key figure in the All Blacks’ run to the World Cup final last month and is believed to be considering jumping back into the coaching fray.

The Roar understands that Schmidt, who has coached all around the world including in France with Clermont, Leinster as well as taking Ireland to two World Cups, would consider coaching the Wallabies.

All Blacks assistant coach Joe Schmidt (C) is understood to be interested in taking over from Eddie Jones as Wallabies coach. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The former Ireland coach, who returned to New Zealand and stepped away from coaching following the 2019 World Cup, was one of the key figures in the All Blacks’ turnaround over the past 18 months.

After the All Blacks’ shock 2-1 home series defeat to Ireland in July last year, Schmidt was brought onto the New Zealand coaching team alongside forwards coach Jason Ryan. It came after returning to the Blues in Super Rugby.

Both were viewed as key figures in the turnaround of the three-time world champions, with the detail and nous returning to the All Blacks’ game. That’s an aspect that was severely missing in the Wallabies’ performances in 2023.

But with Foster not reapplying for the All Blacks coaching job, Scott Robertson was appointed as his successor earlier in the year and Super Rugby’s most successful boss has brought with him his own team. That doesn’t include Schmidt.

Following Jones’ dramatic resignation, which came after the Wallabies won just two of nine Tests in 2023 and missed the knockout stage of the World Cup for the first time, RA is on the hunt for a new head coach.

First, however, RA has made it clear that they want to appoint the head coach after appointing a new director of high-performance, who will lead the charge to find Jones’ replacement over the next three months.

“We haven’t gone to market for the Wallaby coach and we won’t until we place the high performance director,” new RA chairman Daniel Herbert said on Monday.

“I’ve been trying to get the message across that changing a coach doesn’t fix what’s going on right now. I know it makes people feel better if we’ve got a certain coach in place for a period of time, but eventually the scoreboard comes into play. And that’s when you get found out.

“We can’t take a short-term focus and we have to put the foundations in place and that starts with a good high-performance director that can come in and then run the process to find the coach, and make sure that we find the right fit for our playing group and the right person who can address some of the some of the team’s shortcomings of late.”

Newly appointed Rugby Australia Chair Daniel Herbert says he wants to appoint a new director of high-performance to lead the hunt for the Wallabies’ next head coach. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Former Sydney University head coach Billy Millard, who is the current director of rugby at English Premiership side Harlequins, is understood to be one of the leading contenders to fill the role.

While Ireland head of high performance David Nucifora, who worked with RA briefly alongside Robbie Deans, will depart his role midway through next year, it’s unlikely he will apply for the role despite likely returning to Australia following the Paris Olympics.

Former Ireland and Melbourne Rebels analyst Eoin Toolan said there would be no shortage of candidates applying for the role, but advocated for a Schmidt-Nucifora package deal.

“I’ve got to say, I think the job Joe Schmidt did with New Zealand… I don’t think they’re making a World Cup final if Joe Schmidt doesn’t come in and bail out Ian Foster,” Toolan said on the Rugby Weekly Extra podcast.

“That would be an intriguing appointment, particularly if it was in tandem with David Nucifora. We saw the positive impact they had on Irish rugby.”

Former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt was influential in helping the All Blacks turn around their inconsistent form. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The hunt for the two roles comes after McLennan was ousted on Sunday night following the Wallabies’ worst year since the game turned professional.

That could help RA’s endeavour to encourage candidates to apply for the role, with sources telling The Roar some would be reluctant to accept a role whilst McLennan was in the job. That extends to Schmidt.

Part of the reason for the reluctance comes after McLennan led the charge to bring Jones back as Wallabies coach at the expense of New Zealander, Dave Rennie.

McLennan had also made it clear during his time as RA chair that he thought it was advantageous to have an Australian coaching the Wallabies given the cultural differences between countries.

While it is still RA’s preference to have an Australian take over as Wallabies coach, it’s understood Herbert just wants the best candidate – regardless of where they are from – to take over as national coach. Herbert’s consistent stance that axing the head coach does little to solve the “systemic problems” in Australian rugby will only reassure applicants even further.

With two showpiece global events to be played on Australian shores over the next four years, including the British and Irish Lions tour in 2025 and Rugby World Cup 2027, RA believes the Wallabies coaching job will be highly sought after despite the calamitous year and Jones’ ugly departure.

Former Brumbies coach Dan McKellar, who is less than six months into his three-year deal with Leicester, is another strong candidate to take over from Jones.

The Roar first reported last month that McKellar has an exit clause in his deal to allow him to return to Australia if RA wants him.

Former Wallabies assistant Dan McKellar remains a strong contender to replace Eddie Jones. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

Current Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham, who was Michael Cheika’s long-time assistant with the Wallabies and was in the role when the two-time world champions made the 2015 final, is another candidate and recently said he would “love to be involved” in helping Australian rugby.

“I’m certainly interested in trying to help rugby in Australia,” Larkham said.

Larkham, who led the Wallabies to World Cup glory in 1999 as the side’s fly-half, would be the simplest solution for the role given he is only contracted with the Brumbies through until the end of the 2024 Super Rugby season.

Former Fiji head coach Simon Raiwalui, who was nominated as World Rugby coach of the year in 2023 and was Cheika’s assistant at the 2019 World Cup, ruled out being in the running to take over from Jones earlier in the month. His next job, possibly with World Rugby, is likely to be unveiled in the coming weeks.

Former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is another option, with the 2015 World Rugby coach of the year weighing up his future with Argentina.

Yet, given the messy circumstances surrounding his departure at the end of 2019, as well as the circus surrounding Jones’ departure, it’s unlikely RA would seriously consider him so soon following another turbulent year in the game’s history.

RA wants to have its new Wallabies head coach in place by the time Super Rugby gets underway on February 23.

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