Ewen McKenzie, who coached the Reds to the 2011 Super Rugby title, announced that he would leave the Queensland team at the end of the season to pursue an international coaching role.
The sudden move will put extra pressure on Robbie Deans, who needs to ensure the Wallabies beat the British and Irish Lions in a three-Test series in June and July to have any chance of keeping the top rugby job in Australia.
McKenzie, the 1991 World Cup-winning prop, joined the Reds in 2009 after coaching the New South Wales Waratahs, but stepped down as head coach at the end of last season to become the team’s director of coaching.
“The time is right to pursue new coaching challenges outside Super Rugby,” McKenzie said yesterday, making it clear that included the Wallabies.
“Anyone who knows me understands I have strong coaching ambitions and ... I’m excited about pursuing a different role, either here or overseas,” McKenzie said.
He said he did not believe he was putting pressure on Deans by publicly stating his ambition to coach the Australia national team.
Deans’ contract with the Australian Rugby Union ends at the end of the year, but he might come under pressure to leave sooner if Australia lose to the Lions. The New Zealander and former All Black has coached Australia for five years.
“I don’t think it will put pressure on Robbie Deans at all,” McKenzie said of his announcement. “I don’t think this will change anything in his day to day [life].”
He said he announced the decision early in the season to do the right thing by the Reds, giving the Brisbane-based team plenty of notice.
“I spent a lot of time here trying to rebuild a team and reputation,” he said. “It has been a four-year assignment which I have enjoyed.”
McKenzie joined the Reds in 2009 after they had finished next-to-last in the previous season’s Super Rugby tournament and guided the team to their first championship two years later. With McKenzie taking on more of a management role this season, Richard Graham was hired as head coach.
McKenzie was considered a prospective Wallabies coach in 2005, but did not pursue the position, saying he did not feel ready at the time to coach at Test level.
“It is seven years later. If I wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t say I would be,” he said. “I am ready for the next level.”