SYDNEY (Reuters) - Michael Cheika confirmed on Monday he had been offered the chance to succeed Ewen McKenzie as Australia coach but said there remained some details to be “ironed out” before a deal was struck.
The 47-year-old, who led New South Wales Waratahs to the Super Rugby title earlier this year, is the front-runner to take over from McKenzie, who resigned unexpectedly on Saturday after 15 months in charge.
“It’s a pretty humbling experience to be asked to be involved in something like that, but we’ll see what happens,” Cheika told reporters in Sydney.
“There are a few things to be ironed out, obviously - the logistics, etc everything being so close. So we will see how it goes and work it out from there.”
The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) is keen to appoint a coach before the squad depart on Friday for their tour of Europe, which features a match against the Barbarians and tests against Wales, France, Ireland and England.
ARU chief Bill Pulver said they would consider a caretaker coach for the tour if it was not possible to make a permanent appointment in time.
With no June tests and a curtailed Rugby Championship next season, however, that would allow the new coach precious little time to put his imprint on the squad before next year’s World Cup in England.
McKenzie dramatically resigned a few hours before the Wallabies lost 29-28 to New Zealand in Brisbane on Saturday amid the turmoil caused by utility back Kurtley Beale allegedly sending offensive text messages to a team official.
An ARU spokesman said on Monday they were “still in the process of investigating options to replace Ewen McKenzie”.
“At this stage, no prospective coaches have been confirmed in the role – but we hope to have a solution in place and announced before the team leaves for the Spring Tour on Friday,” he added.
One sticking point might be the one year left on Cheika’s contract at the Waratahs.
Their chief executive Jason Allen made it clear on Monday they would insist he remained in his current job as well as coaching the national team.
“We would fully endorse and support Michael if he was offered that role, that’s without fail,” Allen told Australian Associated Press.
“We would however respect that he would have to, with our best wishes, accept both roles for next season.”
Cheika’s Super Rugby triumph with the Waratahs completed a unique coaching double after he guided Irish province Leinster to a Heineken Cup triumph in 2009.
His record made him the immediate favourite for the job ahead of World Cup-winning former South Africa coach Jake White, who was sounded out to replace Robbie Deans in July last year only to lose out to McKenzie.
Other candidates mooted in local media were Australia’s World Cup-winning former flyhalf Stephen Larkham, who is coach of ACT Brumbies, and Melbourne Rebels and former Munster coach Tony McGahan.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Greg Stutchbury/Amlan Chakraborty