SPECULATION is growing that Dave Rennie has been lined-up to take over as Australia head coach when his current contract with Glasgow Warriors runs out at the end of this season.
Greg Growden, a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, even published a piece on Sunday morning discussing the appointment as a matter of fact. “By bringing in Dave Rennie, Rugby Australia will be providing the Wallabies with a far more stable and constructive coaching structure,” he stated.
Michael Cheika stepped down from the Wallabies role after a turbulent five years following Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final defeat to England, and former SRU Director of Rugby Scott Johnson – who now has a similar role with Rugby Australia – has been charged with finding his replacement as part of a root and branch review of the team’s overall programme.
Rennie has been linked with the Australia job since before he signed a 12-month extension to his initial two-year contract with Warriors in April. Johnson was instrumental in initially bringing the New Zealander to Scotland, and a move to Australia would not only be a step up the career ladder for the 55-year-old but also take him closer to home.
It won’t overly worry Johnson that Rennie is unavailable until the start of next summer, with Ireland’s two Test summer tour to Australia not taking place until July, and the Rugby Championship – which is played between the leading southern hemisphere nations – after that in mid-August.
“Now that the Wallabies have exited the tournament, Rugby Australia’s director of rugby, Scott Johnson will lead a thorough review of the Rugby World Cup campaign and the 2019 season,” said Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle.
“This is an important process which is undertaken at the completion of each tournament or series and this review will examine all aspects of the Wallabies program, from coaching to physical preparation, player fitness, and skill development.”
If Rennie does go, finding his replacement will likely be the first major recruitment challenge faced by Jim Mallinder since his own appointed as the SRU’s Director of Rugby in August.
If Mallinder chooses to promote form within then the likes of Mike Blair and Jason O’Halloran – who are currently in assistant roles within the Scottish pro game – would be two leading candidates to step up.
However, it seems more likely that the SRU will once again look to bring in a high-profile coach with a proven track record from outside Scotland. Ben Ryan, who coached the Fiji sevens team to gold at the 2016 Olympics and is currently carrying out a review of Scottish Rugby’s performance department, could be a candidate.
While Johnson was a divisive figure during his time as Director of Rugby, it was generally accepted that his global network of rugby contacts, and particularly his close association with Esportif – one of the world’s leading rugby talent agencies – was instrumental in recruiting the likes of Rennie and Richard Cockerill at Edinburgh. It will be interesting to see how the SRU perform without access to his contact book.