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The 'surprise' frontrunner as Wallaby coach

Respected Kiwi Joe Schmidt is firming as a frontrunner after Rugby Australia boss Phil Waugh revealed March as the deadline for naming a new Wallabies coach.

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Waugh said RA would ramp up the chase for a successor to Eddie Jones following Friday’s confirmation that journeyman Peter Horne had been appointed as director of high performance.

Former Brumbies coach David Nucifora will also return to the governing body in an advisory role and likely have a say in the Wallabies position despite remaining on as Ireland’s high-performance director until after the Paris Olympics.

“We’ll be in the market next week with expressions of interest and ideally we want to be having an appointment in certainly Q-1 [first quarter] in ’24 given that the Welsh are here in July,” Waugh said.

“So it is a bit of a sprint. We understand that time is against us, but equally, it’s a really important process to get right.

“This is a journey and this is the start of that journey and a really exciting path ahead for the game here in Australia and we need to be very disciplined and go through the right process to get the best possible people into the organisation.”

Former Wallabies assistants Stephen Larkham and Dan McKellar along with Michael Cheika, who guided Australia to the 2015 World Cup Final and became available this week after quitting as Argentina coach, had been considered the leading candidates.

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But it’s understood RA has been strongly pursuing Schmidt, who took Ireland to the top of the international rankings before answering an SOS call from New Zealand and helping mastermind the All Blacks’ run to the final in this year’s World Cup in France.

Schmidt has reportedly been reluctant to join the Wallabies ranks after years of decline culminated in Australia missing the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time.

But so, too, apparently was Nucifora before RA lured him home.

(Continue below …)

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With Nucifora, Schmidt and Horne all tight from working so successfully together in the northern hemisphere, RA will now be hoping to secure the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle to take the Wallabies towards the 2025 home series against the British and Irish Lions and the 2027 World Cup in Australia.

It certainly sounded that way when Waugh was asked on Friday if the next Wallabies coach would be signed on for four years.

“It would be dependent on the applicants (being) open to what’s going to drive immediate success, but equally how to drive sustained success,” he said.

“We’ve historically got into this rhythm of it’s all about a World Cup. You end up in a World Cup cycle and you’ve seen through the success of Ireland being a really good example.

“They’ve never got through past the quarter-finals at a World Cup but they’ve been winning consistently at provincial level and at Test-match level and therefore it drives engagement with spectators and fans and the community.

“So I’m really interested in creating winning Wallabies and winning Wallaroos. The sevens team are on the right path both across the men’s and the women’s.

“But what’s really important is winning consistently and not just having a sugar hit of a really successful World Cup and then dipping afterwards.”

Tellingly, Waugh also said the next Wallabies coach didn’t need to be Australian.”

“We need the best possible coach to lead the system and the culture,” he said.

“What I will say is that our competitive advantage in sport is being Australian and so that Australian way and that Australian culture needs to be driven through the team.

“But that can be driven through a coach not from Australia.”

While he will work with Waugh on landing a Wallabies coach, Horne will officially join RA in March after almost 14 years working in high performance for World Rugby following roles with UK club Saracens, Samoan rugby and Equestrian Australia.

Horne will be responsible for pulling together RA’s historic centralisation of Super Rugby high-performance systems, the men’s and women’s national senior programs and youth pathways.

Nucifora, who quit Australian rugby’s high-performance program in 2013 after failing to push through reform, will return in August.

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