The two decisions set to define a decade of Australian rugby

Two potential but dramatic developments are in the wind with the potential to shape Australian rugby well in the future – World Rugby is considering opening “targeted dialogue” with Australia over the 2027 World Cup and Dave Rennie could be in for an extension as Wallabies coach.

“Targeted dialogue”, you may recall, is what the International Olympic Committee conferred on the south-east Queensland bid for the 2032 Games in the lead-up to the vote in July to award the Olympics to Brisbane. It is as close to a “sure thing” as any candidate can ever get. If the potential host country does not shoot itself in the foot, the prize is virtually theirs for the taking.

International sources have informed the Herald and The Age that World Rugby is considering going the same way with the 2027 World Cup. There are only two candidates in the running for the event, Australia and the United States, and frankly the Americans appear to be struggling.

Their national side, the Eagles, still has not qualified for the next World Cup, in France in 2023. They lost out to Uruguay as America’s first qualifier for the tournament. Now they must beat Chile – who on Saturday sensationally knocked Canada out of the World Cup for the first time ever – to scrape into the tournament.

There is one theory that the Americans might double down on their 2027 bid if they miss out in 2023. The only way to play in a World Cup without qualifying for it is to host it. Still, if World Rugby is intent on emulating the IOC, why not try the Olympic solution of awarding Australia the 2027 tournament while, at the same time, giving the Americans more time to prepare for 2031?

World Rugby is due to vote next May but it is acutely aware that one year of planning has already been lost because of the pandemic. Seemingly, it is prepared to do whatever is necessary, even speeding up its own process, to make up time.

Australia looks increasingly likely to host its first World Cup in almost 25 years in 2027.Credit:PA

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan was coy when approached about the startling development, neither confirming nor denying the reports. But if World Rugby did proceed down this path, it can be taken as given that Rugby Australia would be entirely on board.

“Phil Kearns (the bid CEO) and (director) Anthony French have done a great job getting us to this point, but we can’t be complacent,” McLennan said.

Then he added, significantly. “The next six weeks will be quite defining.”

Australia has pursued a home World Cup with rare vigour, even forming a Distinguished Persons committee to allow such luminaries as John Howard, John Coates, Ron Eddington, Peter Cosgrove and John Eales to lend their expertise. Coates, especially, might find his expertise sought on these matters. As vice-president of the IOC, he was the man entrusted by Olympic supremo Thomas Bach to radically reform the host city selection procedure and was the architect of “targeted dialogue”.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is building nicely in the top job.Credit:Getty

It’s perhaps too early to consider who might be coaching the Wallabies in 2027. Rennie is only signed through to 2023 and still has the examination in France to sit. But it is an indication of the growing regard in which he is held that some of the most influential figures at Rugby Australia are considering asking him to stay on for another four years, at least if everything goes well in 2023. As one such source pointed out, he would only be 63 at the 2027 World Cup.

The Wallabies may have won four in a row for the first time during a Rugby Championship but his overall record stands at seven wins, six losses and three draws – a win rate of 43.75 percent or a non-losing rate of 62.5 percent, depending on your perspective. Statistically, he is shaping up well, with the upcoming spring tour likely to deliver more victories, but there is also the human factor to be considered.

Rennie has never indicated he would stay on beyond 2023. Indeed, he sees developing the next generation of Australians to coach the Wallabies as part of his role. In that light, he has brought Brumbies coach Dan McKellar into the mix as an important member of his coaching staff. No promises were ever made, but the general understanding is that McKellar will follow him in as Wallabies coach.

Nothing is ever written in stone, however, and it may well be that even if Rennie does call it quits in 2023, McKellar still could miss out. Brad Thorn is building his credentials and if the Queensland Reds perform best of the Australian contenders in Super Rugby, he too could come into the reckoning. How his “my way or the highway” routine would be embraced by Rugby Australia would be another important factor.

Still, coaches aren’t machines. They have hopes and ambitions, like everyone else, and these must not be trampled on.

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