Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s World Cup-winning director of rugby, has emerged as a candidate to take over at Leicester Tigers, Telegraph Sport can reveal.
Erasmus is understood to be on Leicester’s shortlist alongside Michael Cheika, the current head coach of Argentina, Dan McKellar, an assistant of Eddie Jones with Australia, Dan McFarland, the Ulster head coach, and a handful of Premiership coaches – with international experience thought to be an attractive quality in the Tigers’ exacting search.
The Springboks’ director of rugby has a proven track record in Test rugby, leading his nation to a World Cup triumph in 2019 only a year after taking charge. Erasmus also oversaw South Africa's 2-1 series win over the British and Irish Lions in 2021.
Alongside his coaching achievements, Erasmus has become one of rugby’s most divisive and controversial characters. Off the back of that Lions series victory, the 50-year-old received a 12-month ban for the hour-long video he released in which he forensically criticised the performance of the Australian referee Nic Berry in the first Test of the series.
Erasmus received a further two-match ban and missed South Africa’s victory at Twickenham last November – Jones’ final match as England head coach – after a series of social-media posts implicitly criticising Wayne Barnes’ refereeing performance in the loss to France a week prior.
Telegraph Sport understands that Erasmus recently signed a new contract with South Africa, although the reigning Premiership champions have money to spend following the departures of Steve Borthwick and Kevin Sinfield to England. It is understood, too, that Borthwick’s replacement as Leicester head coach – or, even, as director of rugby – will be given the resources to assemble their own backroom team.
Facing up to a drastic backroom revamp after announcing the departures of interim head coach Richard Wigglesworth and head of physical performance Aled Walters this week, Leicester chief executive Andrea Pinchen explained that the Tigers hierarchy had identified a shortlist of replacements and was nearing the conclusion of the interview stage with candidates.
Both Wigglesworth and Walters will join Borthwick in the England set-up at the end of the season. Tom Harrison, Leicester’s highly-regarded scrum coach, is sure to come under consideration to replace Richard Cockerill as well.
"That [replacement] process has been ongoing for a number of months, from which we narrowed down to a shortlist and are nearing the end of the interview process with those candidates," Pinchen said. "We will be taking the time we feel necessary to get the best possible people in to lead Leicester Tigers from next season into the future."
Pinchen added that her club will not indulge in a “transition period”. While Telegraph Sport understands that Cheika has impressed so far in the process, the obvious down-side of recruiting a current Test head coach would be the logistical challenge of them arriving in the autumn, having missed pre-season and the first fixtures of the 2023-24 Premiership campaign.
The inclusion of McKellar could set up a tug of war with Wallabies head coach Jones. McKellar, previously head coach of the Brumbies between 2017 and 2022, has been part of Dave Rennie’s set-up since 2021. According to reports in Australia, Jones is eager for him to stay. However, with Jones now contracted until the Wallabies’ home World Cup in 2027, there is a significant obstacle in the way of McKellar’s progression to the top job.
McKellar may be able to arrive in Leicester much earlier than Cheika, depending on the former’s involvement with Australia. Jones is in the process of assembling his coaching team and is known to be a fan of McKellar.
Tigers are thought to have weighed up the preferred playing style of coaching candidates, and their suitability to the existing Leicester squad because they are keen to avoid a high turnover of players. McKellar is renowned as a forward technician, with a particular affinity for the line-out maul, making him a kindred spirit of Borthwick.