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'Everyone's in the hunt': RA won't rule out stunning Wallabies return after Cheika departs Argentina role

18th December, 2023
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18th December, 2023
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Former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is back on the market having parted ways with Argentina – and Rugby Australia chief Phil Waugh isn’t ruling him out of a sensational Wallabies return.

“Everyone’s in the hunt, to be fair,” the RA chief executive told AAP when asked if Cheika could be ruled out of contention, four years after finishing up with the Wallabies after the 2019 edition of the World Cup.

“We haven’t gone to market with it yet. 

“We’re hoping to announce our high-performance director this week and then get in the process of going to market for a head coach.

“We’re certainly not advanced in conversations, or in any conversations with anyone really.”

Pressed on whether or not Cheika might be someone RA were interested in after taking the Wallabies to the 2015 World Cup final, Waugh said: “We’re interested in anyone, to be honest, but we just need to go through the process.”

Cheika will be replaced by his assistant Felipe Contepomi who worked alongside Cheika for the past 18 months.

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Cheika guided Argentina to the semi-finals of the recent Rugby World Cup in France and was an assistant and adviser to the team for two years before taking charge in March 2022.

Under the Sydneysider, the Pumas beat the All Blacks in New Zealand, the Wallabies in Australia, and England at Twickenham. 

They knocked out Wales in the World Cup quarter-finals before losing to the All Blacks in the semis.

“Having been the head coach of Los Pumas fills me with pride, and it is one of the experiences that I enjoyed the most in my career as a coach,” Cheika told the Argentina Rugby Union (UAR) website. 

“Although I was born in Australia, a big part of me will be Argentina. I am convinced that Felipe and his staff are going to lead the team in the best way.”

Cheika, who led the Wallabies for five years, coached Australia to the final of the 2015 World Cup. With Eddie Jones still to be replaced as Wallabies coach Cheika at least provides food for thought as Rugby Australia seeks a replacement. He was also linked to a role at the Wests Tigers NRL club before their recent board room turmoil.

At the recent World Cup, he told The Roar he wanted to be involved in the 2027 World Cup in some capacity.

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“I’m still on with the (Lebanon) Cedars (rugby league team) and there’s a World Cup that will be in Australia, I think, in 2026 before the Rugby World Cup in 2027. I’m looking forward to being involved in both of those – one way or another,” he said.

The dramatic departure of Eddie Jones as Wallabies coach one season into his five-year deal saw Cheika’s name resurface as a potential candidate.

Head coach Michael Cheika and Julian Montoya of the Pumas talk to the media after winning The Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Argentina Pumas at Orangetheory Stadium on August 27, 2022 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

While new Leicester Tigers coach Dan McKellar and Brumbies mentor Stephen Larkham are other Australian alternatives, Cheika, who coached the Wallabies between 2014 and 2019, has the international experience to be considered for Australia’s rebuild job.

The experienced coach said at the World Cup that he he wouldn’t be lobbying for any other roles until he met with Argentina to determine if he or Contepomi, would lead Los Pumas forward.

“When I was the coach in Australia, I was very loyal and that’s my go,” Cheika said.

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The decision is not a major shock, as Cheika flagged the possibility at the end of the World Cup when he said: “I’m very loyal to what’s happening between me and Argentina – that’s my first port of call.

“I’ll go down there in a couple of weeks, and we’ll have a full debrief of what we did and then start making plans for the next World Cup. And then also decide what I’m going to do moving forward.

“The original arrangement was that a young fella who I coached at length – Felipe Contepomi – he’s the guy who is going to take over at some stage.

“We’ll make a decision together on whether they think it’s good for me to stay on in that environment or does he want to go on his own.”

Contepomi was the five-eighth at Irish club Leinster – and Cheika the coach – when they won their first European Cup in 2009. 

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He played 87 Tests, and was key to Argentina reaching their first Rugby World Cup semi-finals in 2007. Four years later, he captained the Pumas at his fourth World Cup.

Michael Cheika, Head Coach of Argentina, looks on during the warm up prior to the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Bronze Final match between Argentina and England at Stade de France on October 27, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Contepomi paid tribute to Cheika, calling it an honour to have worked under the Australian as Argentina’s attack coach and being “grateful for the extraordinary opportunity”.

After he retired from playing in 2014, he learned the coaching ropes with the Argentina XV and Super Rugby Jaguares, before returning to Leinster. Cheika brought him home in 2022.

UAR president Gabriel Travaglini thanked Cheika.

“His professionalism, passion and dedication to Argentine rugby is something we will remember forever,” Travaglini said. 

“Today, we are convinced that Felipe is the right person for this new path towards Australia 2027.”

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(With agencies)

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