So, it appears the Wallabies will have a new head coach by the end of next year.
Michael Cheika, in an interview with Iain Payten of The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, has revealed that he will move on if the Wallabies don't win the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Not even making the final in Japan will be enough for him to continue.
To get this out in the public domain is a shrewd move from the most street smart of coaches, as he knows image wise it is far smarter to walk rather than to be removed forcibly -- which could be the case if the Wallabies' World Cup campaign falters next season.
As the Wallabies' chances of winning a third World Cup title are in the "possible" rather than "probable" category, the most likely scenario involves Cheika coaching the Wallabies for the last time in October/November 2019.
At least Rugby Australia have some time to work out who should replace Cheika. That time will be useful because the list of candidates is hardly rousing -- highlighting once again one of the Australian game's more glaring problems, the dearth of quality, experienced coaches at all levels.
Cheika is already pushing for his Wallabies assistant coach Stephen Larkham to be Australia's next Test coach. But such an endorsement could turn into a hospital pass -- especially if the Wallabies lose their way over the next 18 months.
Australia are currently ranked No. 4 in the world -- behind New Zealand, England and Ireland. If that ranking does not improve by the end of 2019, the Rugby Australia board is unlikely to endorse someone from within a failing Wallabies fraternity. Instead, the push will be for a new look, a new start, and new coaching personnel. The public pressure for a revamped Wallabies coaching outfit will be overwhelming.
Larkham has his detractors. It hasn't been forgotten that the Brumbies under him lost a great deal of their renowned attacking panache, and became a stodgy forwards-oriented unit. You play to your strengths admittedly, but many Brumbies followers expected Larkham, who during his playing days was the conductor of the most expressive of the team's ensemble play, to be a more extravagant head coach.
Also, one Sydney newspaper last week seemed confused about what exactly Larkham does with the Wallabies, labelling him the team's forwards coach. That would have startled a fair few boofy blokes at the four Australian Super Rugby franchises. Then again, maybe it was a subtle dig at the Brumbies in Larkham's time becoming the masters of the driving maul.
Rugby Australia may have to search their Super Rugby ranks instead to find the right candidate. Here they will be entering kindergarten territory.
Dan McKellar (Brumbies) and Brad Thorn (Queensland Reds) are rookies, each involved in their first season as head coach. Rebels coach Dave Wessels is in his second year. The Waratahs' Daryl Gibson alone has some sort of history, but the New Zealander has struggled since taking over from Cheika at Moore Park in 2016. The Waratahs have meandered rather than matured under the low-key Gibson.
Of this group, Wessels is the most fancied to take the next step. But he still has to prove himself at Super Rugby level. Coaching an embittered team desperate to prove a point -- as was the case with the Western Force last season, as they were fighting for survival -- has its many advantages. Wessels didn't have to come up with too many Churchillian speeches to motivate his troops.
This season with the Rebels will be different, but again he has a leg-up. Wessels has the luxury of melding so much talent from two teams into one unit. Nothing less than a Rebels finals appearance this season is required for the Wessels brand to remain squeaky clean.
As the Brumbies appear the best of the Australian conference, McKellar could emerge as a potential candidate -- especially if he invigorates that team. Having the clever Laurie Fisher sitting beside him in the Brumbies coaches box does help.
The coach who will attract the most attention is Thorn. He is by far the most intriguing character.
Thorn's ability to move successfully from the top ranks of rugby league to union on several occasions marks him as a special athlete. In my view, he is right up there with Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Kieran Read in the All Blacks' Gold Class category.
As a player, there was no-one more forthright. As a coach, Thorn looks as if he will be exactly the same. There's no tip-toeing going on here. He takes the job, and immediately gets rid of the team's best-known player -- Quade Cooper. And the mail from Brisbane is that Thorn will not back down from that controversial stance. My way. Highway. You know the rest.
Tough love will be Thorn's motto -- and it could work. All he has to do is find forwards who realise the danger of unnecessarily shoulder-charging someone in the head, or of dumping an opponent on their noggin. Then he could be onto something.
He has the toughest coaching job of all in Australia as he oversees a provincial basket case. If Thorn can bring back some sanity and pride to the Reds, well who knows? Stranger decisions have been made at Australian rugby's board level. The All Blacks would certainly be fearful.