Rugby World Cup-winning coach Jake White has emerged as a potential candidate to take over the reins at Western Force if the Super 14 franchise releases embattled coach John Mitchell at the end of the season.
White has already been in contact with the Force, an informed source said.
Bret Harris writes for Aussie newspaper The Australian that Mitchell, whose coaching methods and management style were the subject of a recent inquiry, remains contracted to the Force until 2011.
But there is still uncertainty about his future.
The Force are understood to have already decided that Mitchell, if he is cut, will be replaced by another high-profile coach.
The recruitment of Mitchell, who coached New Zealand from 2001 to 2003, was regarded as a coup for the Force, who opposed the wishes of the Australian Rugby Union by signing the first foreign coach of an Australian Super rugby team.
White, who achieved what Mitchell failed to do with New Zealand, guiding the Springboks to victory in the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, would certainly provide the Force with instant credibility.
A coach of White’s stature would help the Force to retain and recruit players.
He has not coached a team since the World Cup but has acted as a consultant to English club Saracens.
There are fears of a player exodus from the Force following Australia five-eighth Matt Giteau’s decision to return to the Brumbies next year.
Force full-back Drew Mitchell is being chased by the Brumbies, New South Wales Waratahs and Queensland Reds, while the Waratahs are also very interested in inside centre James O’Connor.
Early indications suggest that Mitchell will follow his close friend Giteau to Canberra.
Mitchell said that joining Giteau in Canberra was “an option worth looking at”.
“A big part of my reasoning in coming over here was to play with Matt Giteau,” Mitchell said.
“It’s going to weigh quite heavily in my considerations as to what team I’ll play with next year.
“My next contract will take me to another World Cup campaign (in New Zealand in 2011) and I want to make sure that I give myself every opportunity to be in the reckoning for that.”
There was speculation the Waratahs would intensify their efforts to recruit Mitchell if current full-back Sam Norton-Knight accepted an offer to play in Japan or Europe.
But the Waratahs are keen to secure Mitchell and O’Connor whether Norton-Knight stays in Sydney or not.
The Waratahs’ backline has stuttered a little in the side’s opening two wins against the Hurricanes and Cheetahs.
But with Mitchell at full-back and O’Connor at inside centre, the Waratahs would field one of the classiest backlines in world rugby.
Force chief executive Greg Harris said earlier in the week that the club would recruit a foreign five-eighth or inside centre to replace Giteau.
But John Mitchell said the Force would seek a marquee No.10.
While the 18-year-old O’Connor was a long-term prospect at five-eighth, Mitchell saw his immediate future at inside centre.
“James is going to be a very good player,” Mitchell said.
“He can play three positions, but he’s very young and needs to gain experience.
“And the best way to gain experience is by playing but also being surrounded by a person who does have experience and that’s a solution to arrive at.
“Most of the players who have become great fly halves in the world, like Dan Carter and Matt, started their careers at 12 and moved into 10.
“It gives them time and space and also allows them to give voice to their fly half and also for them to see opportunities to present themselves.
“So I see in time, as he develops that plus his kicking game, that he can become a very good fly half.
“In terms of our capability we’ve still got a great opportunity to develop players.
“And we’ve got a chance to buy the best in the world.”
While players will no doubt leave the Force, fears of a mass exodus are overstated.
The Force has about 20 players coming off contract, but there are only so many vacancies at the other three teams.Tweet