Race for top job wide open


THE race to succeed John Connolly as Wallabies coach is wide open, says Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill.

O'Neill has dismissed speculation that respected Canterbury Crusaders coach Robbie Deans is a shoe-in to replace Connolly next year.

He also described talk of divisions within the Wallabies coaching ranks as a "storm in a tea-cup" and didn't believe it would pose a distraction in the lead-up to the World Cup in France.

"It's absolutely wrong to think that Robbie Deans has got the job, he hasn't," O'Neill said.

"The fact that Robbie Deans has been given some element of favouritism, you don't have to be Einstein to work out his credentials are pretty good.

"He's probably the most consistent, successful provincial coach in the world.

O'Neill said the fact there was no longer a policy that the Wallabies must be coached by an Australian had opened the door to coaches like Deans.

In his new autobiography It's Only a Game, O'Neill wrote that in 2004 he was keen to replace Wallabies coach Eddie Jones with Deans.

But yesterday at Robina Stadium, where the East Coast Aces will play in the new Australian Rugby Championship next week, O'Neill said he didn't have a personal favourite for the top post and promised a transparent selection process.

O'Neill said Super 14 mentors Laurie Fisher, Ewen McKenzie and David Nucifora and Wallabies assistant coaches Scott Johnson and John Muggleton were all "very good candidates" to supplant Connolly.

Connolly is widely expected to end his two-year tenure following the World Cup, but reports have claimed tensions among his three assistant coaches had the potential to undermine Australia's efforts, something O'Neill denies.

"It's over. We're just getting on with preparations now for France."

Meanwhile, O'Neill confirmed the ARU would lose close to $6 million this year, despite budgeting for a $2.4 million shortfall.

He blamed poor gate takings on Wales and South Africa sending second-string squads to Australia and the fact a large portion of the ARU's revenue revolved around broadcasting rights, negotiated in US dollars.

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