McKellar backed to take over Wallabies job, but a return won’t be straightforward

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Respected coach Laurie Fisher says former Brumbies colleague Dan McKellar should be a leading candidate to become the next Wallabies coach, filling the vacancy left by Eddie Jones.

McKellar, the former ACT coach who is currently in charge of Leicester in England, is one of the main contenders to become the next Wallabies coach, following Jones’ exit from Australian rugby less than a year into his five-year contract.

Other early candidates mentioned as potential replacements are former Wallabies great Stephen Larkham, ex-Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and former Brumbies and Connacht coach Andy Friend.

After serving as an assistant coach to Dave Rennie for three years, McKellar was positioned as the heir apparent to take over in 2024. But Rennie’s sacking – and the return of Jones – at the start of this year led to the ex-Brumbies coach also departing the Wallabies program, to take up a three-year deal in the English Premiership.

Jones’ departure this week has opened a door for McKellar’s return and the well-regarded coach is seen by many as the best option – including by some Wallabies players.

But McKellar’s return is far from straightforward. Most club coaches have clauses in their contracts to pursue an opportunity at Test level, and McKellar has made it known in the past he aspires to coach the Wallabies.

But given it would happen just one year into a three-year deal at Leicester, Rugby Australia would have to negotiate with the club about McKellar exiting early. The Tigers also lost their last coach to a spot vacated by Jones – with Steve Borthwick taking over at England.

Dan McKellar, pictured with Taniela Tupou, now coaches the Leicester Tigers.Credit: Getty

Cheika is interested in returning, according to informed sources who requested anonymity to speak freely, but Rugby Australia will undoubtedly be wary of the perils in going back to another former Wallabies coach, given the Jones debacle. Cheika working with a new high-performance director would be a big question mark, too, given he has publicly said he resented Scott Johnson coming in as Head of Rugby in 2019.

Veteran coach Friend, who coached Connacht for seven years in Ireland, is returning home and is reportedly in the mix for the new high-performance role.

Michael Cheika celebrates after Argentina’s quarter-final win over Wales.Credit: AP

Larkham, who comes off contract at the end of the 2024 Super Rugby season, is also well-regarded and served as an attack coach with the Wallabies under Cheika. But he has only had a total of four seasons as a head coach.

Fisher, who has coached with both McKellar and Larkham at the Brumbies, believes the former is at the right stage of his career to become Wallabies coach.

“I worked closely with Dan for a number of years and I rate him very highly,” Fisher said.

Laurie Fisher has been a highly respected coach in Canberra for over two decades.Credit: Getty

“Not just in terms of his rugby knowledge but what he has developed over time is his capacity to run a program to identify with his playing group and his coaching staff, and in his leadership, empathy, and all those things, I think he is top quality in all those things. I think Dan is in a really good place for that role.

“I really think Stevie has grown but he is still discovering himself in where he can go and how he wants his team to play, and what best preparation looks like. Down the track, he will absolutely make a wonderful Wallabies coach because we all know what a wonderful rugby brain he has got.

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham and Nic White.Credit: Getty

“I think ‘Bernie’ and Darren Coleman and ‘Cronny’ (Simon Cron) and ‘Footey’ (Kevin Foote) still have experiences to gather. Les (Kiss) has had a lot of those experiences, but he needs to make Queensland rugby – given their resources and quality – absolutely as good as they can be.

“But it’s no good for Australian rugby to drag someone out of Super Rugby and then leave them in the lurch. The Wallabies depend a lot on the quality of the work that is done at Super Rugby level, so there’s no point in robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Fisher said Friend’s time at Connacht and decades in the coaching game made him another candidate to consider for the role.

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