Rugby Australia is moving closer to naming their new director of high-performance, with World Rugby’s director of high-performance Peter Horne set to take on the role – and the move could help land highly-regarded coach Joe Schmidt for the vacant Wallabies job.
As The Roar reported last week, Horne had emerged as the leading candidate in recent weeks.
It’s believed he has edged out former Sydney University, Australian Sevens and Harlequins’ director of rugby Billy Millard for the role.
The finer points of the negotiations are being out, but it’s likely Horne will be announced over the next week once the sports administrator wraps up a crucial series of meetings this week with World Rugby.
Horne is leading World Rugby meetings with tier-two nations this week in Sydney, with former Fiji coach Simon Raiwalui in attendance before he officially wraps up and joins World Rugby.
His appointment reflects RA’s desire to go down an administrative path rather than former coach of any standing like Millard would have offered.
Horne, who joined World Rugby in 2015 as a general manager of high-performance before moving into his current role, will sit at the top of the high-performance tree, with the next Wallabies coach to report into him.
During his tenure with World Rugby, the Sydneysider has played an important role in setting up competitions, high-performance structures and pathways across developing countries.
He also played a role in helping Super Rugby integrate Fiji Drua and Moana Pasifika into the competition.
Those successes played out in the recent Rugby World Cup, with Chili, Fiji, Georgia and Portugal delivering encouraging performances that positively reflected World Rugby’s desire to spread and build the game. Horne briefly worked at Saracens as a general manger.
RA always said they wanted to have the role filled by Christmas, with chief-executive Phil Waugh saying the successful candidate had one of the biggest jobs to change the game’s standing in Australia.
“It’s a big job,” Waugh said. “It’s the biggest job on my leadership team in terms of the impact it has on the general sentiment around the game.”
Horne will oversee all of Australia’s men’s and women’s high-performance programs.
He will also be tasked with “integrating” the programs, with RA trying to centralise all of the Super Rugby’s high-performance programs.
Perhaps most pressing will be building a list of coaching candidates to take over from Eddie Jones, with RA wanting to have the new Wallabies coach set in stone by the start of Super Rugby.
Horne’s close relationship with former Ireland coach and All Blacks assistant Joe Schmidt could be one of the keys to landing the 2018 World Rugby coach of the year.
After leaving his Irish post after six years following the 2019 World Cup, Schmidt worked alongside Horne at World Rugby.
It’s believed the duo have a strong working relationship.
While Schmidt’s Irish side bombed out in successive quarter-finals under his leadership, the New Zealander took the Emerald Isle to the top of World Rugby’s rankings.
Along the way, Schmidt played an instrumental role in not just seeing them become one of the world’s best teams but helped usher through transformational change off the field, as Ireland moved to a centralised system.
Schmidt briefly exited the international coaching scene following the 2019 World Cup, citing a desire to move home to New Zealand to be closer to his family.
But after initially moving back into the coaching fray with the Blues in Super Rugby, he joined the All Blacks ahead of last year’s Rugby Championship as New Zealand Rugby shook the All Blacks coaching team up following their historic series loss to Andy Farrell’s Irish.
Schmidt’s expertise proved telling, with he and Jason Ryan transforming the All Blacks and helping Ian Foster’s side reach the final of this year’s World Cup after stunning wins over Ireland and France.
Importantly, the 58-year-old, The Roar understands, is interested in the Wallabies coaching job.
Dan McKellar, Stephen Larkham, Andy Friend and Ian Foster remain interested in the role.
Should RA move on him, Schmidt’s backing would be largely supported by the Super Rugby franchises, with several sources telling The Roar that the experienced coach is exactly the type of person the Wallabies need.
After a year in where the Wallabies’ detail and nous was clearly absent on the field, the highly detailed Schmidt would help bring rugby smarts to the Australian program.
Indeed, the manipulation and ability to play both sides of the ruck was clearly visible by Ireland during his Irish tenure.
What’s more, should RA go down a path of bringing Schmidt into the fold, his own relationship with Ireland’s long-time director of high-performance David Nucifora could see the Australian reconsider his position with the governing body.
Last year Nucifora told The Roar he would unlikely consider returning to RA when he leaves his post with Ireland following next year’s Olympics.
“I don’t think it’d be wise to revisit,” Nucifora said.
“I think that you have a go at something once, you do your best and then if it’s not good enough or it didn’t work you move on, do something else.
“What’s changed back there that I could think that, what I can offer, can change what they’re doing still?
“I’ll always love rugby. I’ll always love Australian rugby. Could I see myself working in Australia again? I doubt it.”
But RA have been making moves to try and twist Nucifora’s arm.
While Nucifora was never in the running for the director of high-performance, it’s understood they are trying to get him on board as a consultant when he wraps up with Ireland.