Michael Cheika will lead the Wallabies to the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year, but the head coach will have to report to a director of rugby after Scott Johnson was installed above him in a newly created role.
As part of several changes to the national setup announced on Monday, the pair will form a national selection panel along with a third, independent selector to be appointed in early 2019.
But the fate of Cheika’s assistants – Stephen Larkham, Nathan Grey, Simon Raiwalui and Mick Byrne – remains unclear; a final decision now rests with Johnson, who will take into account recommendations made by Cheika.
Rugby Australia confirmed the revisions to its high performance program a week after the organisation’s board met to assess the national side’s dismal season – their worst calendar year since 1958 during which they won just four of 13 Tests and slipped to sixth in the world rankings.
RA resisted calls for Cheika’s head and instead opted to bring Johnson back into the fold to work above the coach in a similar role to the one the former Wallabies attack coach has been performing for Scottish Rugby since 2013.
“It’s a great move for Australian rugby and I know it will prove to be the best long-term structure for the game in this country,” Cheika said. “I’m looking forward to working with Scott and finishing the work that I started by making Australians proud of our performance.”
Johnson, a centre during his playing days who captained the Australia under-21 side and the New South Wales Waratahs, will take up the role in early 2019. He has previously been involved in the national setup in 2006-07 when he served on John Connolly’s coaching staff.
Cheika’s fate has divided the Australian rugby community after he oversaw a disastrous season, lowlighted by nine Test defeats and a record sixth-straight defeat to Eddie Jones’s England.
The former Wallabies player Matt Burke last week called for Cheika's sacking, claiming his position had become untenable, but the Test greats David Campese and Stirling Mortlock, along with a current player, David Pocock, were among those to back the embattled coach.
RA’s chief executive, Raelene Castle, also stood by Cheika in the face of stiff criticism and she reiterated her stance on Monday.
“We are confident Michael is the right man to lead the Wallabies to the World Cup and the appointment of Scott Johnson will support Michael and his coaching team as they prepare for the tournament in Japan next September,” Castle said.
“In his review, Michael identified potential changes to the current structure and he and Scott will work their way through these recommendations.”
As part of the performance review, RA and Australia’s four Super Rugby organisations agreed to principles on an aligned national high performance model, and the creation of a “fighting fund” aimed at attracting and retaining the best young talent in Australian rugby.
“It has been a tough year for all who love rugby, and this is an important step in building a strong, successful and sustainable future for Australian rugby and getting the Wallabies back to where they belong,” Castle added.