Double duty on the cards for McKellar in win-win for Wallabies

By Georgina Robinson
June 18, 2020 — 4.14pm

Dan McKellar is set to combine his Brumbies duties with a call-up to the Wallabies coaching staff as early as October.

In an unintended upside to the coronavirus-triggered financial crisis in Australian rugby, all the obstacles to the highly-rated Brumbies coach joining Dave Rennie's set up as forwards coach appear to have been removed.

The 43-year-old looks a near-certainty to follow in the footsteps of predecessor Stephen Larkham and combine Super Rugby head coaching duties with a key role with the Wallabies.

Brumbies boss Phil Thomson said McKellar's role had not been discussed since the March shutdown of Super Rugby but he expected it to be raised in coming weeks.

"The COVID-19 situation is going to change the way we do a lot of things, in the way we share resources and work more efficiently," Thomson said. "It’s going to be high on everyone’s agenda so I imagine at some stage that conversation about Dan will come up with Rugby Australia. Our position, under the circumstances of what’s happened and the financial constraints the game is under, means I can see that conversation happening over the next month or so."

Cost-cutting across the entire game is watering down territorialism and ushering in a new reality of personnel sharing and efficiency.

Where discussions earlier this year were hampered by concerns over either burnout [in the case of McKellar doing both jobs] or the Brumbies or Wallabies being shortchanged [if McKellar was forced to choose] an imminent restructure of high performance across all levels of the game could pave the way for a compromise.

McKellar could conceivably coach the Brumbies through until the end of the Super Rugby AU competition in September and then link up formally with the Wallabies as they prepare for a likely Bledisloe Cup series or Rugby Championship in October. He would also balance some Wallabies responsibilities with his "day job" at the Brumbies throughout the competition, which kicks off in two weeks.

The template already exists, with former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika having juggled the NSW head coaching role with the Wallabies job from October 2014 until the 2015 World Cup. Larkham, who was McKellar's predecessor at the Brumbies, did the same for a year when he joined Cheika's set up as Wallabies attack coach.

Most recently the Waratahs recruited Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore as defence coach while World Rugby worked out what could be salvaged in its under 20s calendar.

Cheika came to see juggling both roles in 2015 as a key part of the Wallabies success at the World Cup later that year. He felt being heavily involved in the day-to-day coaching of a large portion of what became the World Cup squad led to cohesion at Test level.

Meanwhile, RA could be forced to seek an exemption from the federal government to get Rennie to Australia next month.

It was hoped the former Chiefs and NZ under 20s coach, a New Zealand citizen, would be allowed to travel freely to Australia by mid-July under a trans-Tasman travel "bubble" agreed between the two countries.

But with three new cases popping up in New Zealand on Thursday and more cases in Australia, plus ministerial comments suggesting international travel would stay restricted until the end of the year, RA may be forced into plan B.

That would mean applying for an exemption for Rennie to travel to Australia and serve out a quarantine period here. It is not expected to be a major issue but just adds further paper work and a delay of two more weeks for Rennie.

Rennie is currently serving out his quarantine period in Auckland after leaving Scotland, where he coached Glasgow. He will travel to Palmerston North to catch up with family before flying to Australia around the middle to end of July, the Wallabies said.

Georgina Robinson