McKenzie quit following the dramatic 29-28 defeat against world champions New Zealand in Brisbane on Saturday. McKenzie’s post-Bledisloe bombshell has rocked Australian rugby to its core, with a five-man ARU Rugby Committee now in a desperate four-day scramble to secure a replacement before the Wallabies leave for their five-week tour to Europe.
“At this point, I don’t even know who can get on a plane on Friday,” ARU chief executive Bill Pulver admitted in Brisbane. NSW Waratahs coach Cheika is understood to be the chief target, but Pulver is sweating on him breaking out of the final year of his contract with the SuperRugby champions in order to answer the Wallabies’SOS.
It’s unlikely the ARU — and rival Australian Super franchises — would allow anyone to coach both state and country simultaneously, even with the next World Cup 11 months away. South Africa’s 2007 World Cup-winning mentor Jake White — overlooked when McKenzie was appointed as Robbie Deans’ successor 15 months ago — is the other prime candidate.
White last week accepted a short-term advisory role with Tonga for their spring tour, but would likely be able to renege in favour of the Wallabies job.
Former Wallabies World Cup-winning back Rod Kafer is backing Cheika: “There’s only one man for the job and that’s Michael Cheika,” Kafer said.
“He is loved by the Waratahs players for the way he wants them to play the game.
“And the ARU have already been in contact with Cheika.”
Pulver on Sunday denied he’d spoken to any coach, and was unaware of any approaches from within his organisation.
Asked if Cheika was in the running, Pulver said: “All I can say is I’ve got a list of options in mind and I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The meticulous Cheika was planning a fact-finding mission to the United States this week in preparation for the Waratahs’ title defence.