Wallabies cast wide net in search for new coach
Quality, not an Aussie passport, will dictate Michael Cheika's successor next season as the jarring prospect of a foreign coach of the Wallabies looms.
Kiwi coach Dave Rennie, tied to Glasgow Warriors until June next year, will be on every short list but just what Australian contenders will vie with him is far more unclear.
Every resource is being thrown at Cheika to make a winning start to the year in Johannesburg early on Sunday morning (AEST) so momentum can be built for the World Cup quest just two months away in Japan.
New Rugby Australia director of rugby-cum-selector Scott Johnson said both targets were consuming but admitted the search for a 2020 coach had to also bubble away in the background.
When asked about Rennie, a two-time Super Rugby winner with the Chiefs, Johnson was appropriately vague.
"There's everyone in the frame that's coaching around the world is in the frame," Johnson said in Johannesburg where the Springboks await at Ellis Park.
"We're trying to find someone that suits (but) we've got a job to do here, the coach can wait."
Johnson had to head overseas for his biggest breaks as coach of Wales, Scotland and the United States so he knows better than anyone the pluses and the pitfalls of a foreign Test coach.
When asked directly if an Australian would be the next Wallabies coach, Johnson's worldwide search was clear.
"It's hypocritical for me to sit here and say that … I don't put a nationality next to the next person," Johnson said.
"I think we're after quality, that's what we're after. We also need to invest in our coaching in Australia because there are young coaches of promise to develop so we've got enough people there to pick from."
His key role at Rugby Australia is not just to bring home Test-hardened players like James O'Connor and Nic White from English clubs and keep working on a way for giant lock Will Skelton to do the same after his stellar season with champion English club Saracens.
Creating more chances for homegrown coaches, like Shaun Berne's elevation as Wallabies' attack coach, is as big a priority.
Johnson is excited by the new Cheika-Berne partnership,
"He (Berne) has got real talent and he aligns with Cheik's philosophy so there's that real synergy and we're really hopeful with the team to play slightly differently," Johnson said.
Johnson could give no timeline on when a possible shortlist of coaching options for 2020 would be drawn up.
"We're doing our due diligence. It's not like we're sitting back and doing nothing … we've got a proper process," Johnson said.
"Rest assured that Australia's interest is at heart because we want to make sure Wallaby rugby is good at all levels."
Rennie is also being courted by the NSW Waratahs, while Aussie Scott Wisemantel is another name floated.
Finding the right replacement for former All Black Daryl Gibson as Waratahs coach is major too because having another coach, unable to coach the Wallabies, in charge of the biggest rugby state would be folly.
"The beauty of it is we're getting a more aligned system in Australia and while it's a Waratahs pick, we certainly are being involved in the process," Johnson said.
Skelton has been a revelation at Saracens where he has lost more than 20kg and discussions about getting him back to Australian rugby have gone on.
"There's discussions with all our players overseas, especially if they want to come back and commit to us. Will's not unlike some others," Johnson said.
Last year, Cheika said that only winning the World Cup would be an improvement on 2015's vibrant runners-up run and it would be "somebody else's opportunity to do it" if the trophy was beyond him and his team.