By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - New Zealander Dave Rennie has been tasked with leading Australia to the 2023 Rugby World Cup after being appointed Michael Cheika's replacement in the wake of the Wallabies' meek quarter-final exit from Japan.
"Proud Kiwi" Rennie becomes the second New Zealander to take on the role following Robbie Deans and faces a stiff challenge to reverse the decline of Cheika's final years in charge and rebuild a fallen rugby power amid a period of transition.
With England's Australian coach Eddie Jones off-limits, Rugby Australia saw no alternative but to target a foreign coach and Chief Executive Raelene Castle was thrilled to have secured the man she said was always top of the governing body's short-list.
"We looked really hard at the Australian options and there wasn’t one at this level that we believed was available to come into this role," New Zealander Castle told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.
"It’s something that we’ve identified as an area that we need to spend more time focused on to try to develop young coaches coming through."
The Wallabies will be Rennie's first national job at the highest level but he comes with a track record of rapid success at junior and provincial grade in both hemispheres.
The 55-year-old led New Zealand's under-20 side to three consecutive world titles from 2008-10 before claiming back-to-back Super Rugby crowns in 2012-13 in his first two years in charge of the Waikato Chiefs.
Crossing to Glasgow Warriors in 2017, he guided the Scottish side to the Pro14 final and the quarter-final of the Heineken Champions Cup last season.
Rennie, who will start his Wallabies tenure in July 2020 after completing his Warriors commitments, will hope for similar quick success in Australia to win over the inevitable sceptics.
Former All Black Deans, a hugely successful coach of Super Rugby powerhouse Canterbury Crusaders, never managed that during his 2008-13 tenure.
Despite guiding the Wallabies to the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand and enjoying a solid winning record, Deans was routinely pilloried by local media for implementing a defensive game.
He was ultimately dumped in the wake of a series defeat to the touring British and Irish Lions in 2013.
"I get it, I think Australians want their national team coached by an Australian and I'm okay with that," Rennie said in a video interview released by RA.
"Hopefully, they're feeling that way because they care about Aussie rugby and all I can say is everywhere I've gone I've immersed myself in the community and the culture."
Rennie was among 26 candidates identified by New Zealand Rugby as potential successors to All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen, who bowed out after their semi-final exit in Japan.
With former Wales coach Warren Gatland ruling himself out and Jamie Joseph opting to extend his contract with Japan through to the next World Cup, the All Blacks' choices are thinning.
"I'm a proud Kiwi but the big thing is I've been talking to Australia for a lot of months and the All Blacks interest came in late in the piece," said Rennie.
"And by that stage, we'd done a lot of homework, we were really excited about the opportunity to go to Australia and that ended up being an easy decision."
He takes over a Wallabies team that boasts a number of top-shelf players but has also lost a slew of seasoned campaigners to international retirement.
He will have to get used to working without complete autonomy or the authority to pick his own assistants.
RA's Director of Rugby Scott Johnson will have a heavy hand in appointing Rennie's staff and his players as a selector, a structure foisted upon a reluctant Cheika at the end of a poor season in 2018.
(Editing by Stephen Coates/Peter Rutherford)