Cheika quits Pumas, RA not ruling out Wallabies return

Phil Waugh isn't ruling out Rugby Australia going back to the well once more and hiring Michael Cheika as Wallabies coach for a second stint.

Cheika on Tuesday announced he had parted company with Argentina, two months after guiding the Pumas to the Rugby World Cup semi-finals in France.

His departure raises the inevitable question: could Cheika return to Sydney to replace his former Randwick teammate Eddie Jones as Wallabies coach?

Waugh says anything is possible, despite Jones's own second tenure in charge of Australia ending in disaster, with the Wallabies failing to progress out of the World Cup group stages for the first time.

Michael Cheika
Michael Cheika celebrates a victory in 2018 during his time as coach of the Wallabies.

"Everyone's in the hunt, to be fair," the RA chief executive told AAP when asked if Cheika could be ruled out of contention, four years after finishing up with the Wallabies after the 2019 edition of the global showpiece.

"We haven't gone to market with it yet. 

"We're hoping to announce our high-performance director this week and then get in the process of going to market for a head coach.

"We're certainly not advanced in conversations, or in any conversations with anyone really."

Pressed on whether or not Cheika might be someone RA were interested in after taking the Wallabies to the 2015 World Cup final, Waugh said: "We're interested in anyone, to be honest, but we just need to go through the process."

Cheika's assistant Felipe Contepomi will take over as the Pumas' head coach.

Argentina's World Cup run to the semi-finals came after Cheika stepped up in March 2022, following two years as an adviser to the team.

Under the Sydneysider, the Pumas beat the All Blacks in New Zealand, the Wallabies in Australia and England at Twickenham. 

They knocked out Wales in the World Cup quarter-finals, before losing to the All Blacks in the semis.

"Having been the head coach of Los Pumas fills me with pride, and it is one of the experiences that I enjoyed the most in my career as a coach," Cheika told the Argentina Rugby Union (UAR) website. 

"Although I was born in Australia, a big part of me will be Argentina. I am convinced that Felipe and his staff are going to lead the team in the best way.”

Felipe Contepomi (right) will replace Michael Cheika (left)
Felipe Contepomi (right) will replace Michael Cheika (left) as coach of Argentina's rugby side.

Contepomi was the five-eighth at Irish club Leinster - and Cheika the coach - when the Irish outfit won their first European Cup in 2009. 

He played 87 Tests, and was key to Argentina reaching their first Rugby World Cup semi-finals in 2007. Four years later, he captained the Pumas at his fourth World Cup.

Contepomi paid tribute to Cheika, calling it an honour to have worked under the Australian as Argentina's attack coach and being “grateful for the extraordinary opportunity”.

After he retired from playing in 2014, he learned the coaching ropes with the Argentina XV and Super Rugby Jaguares, before returning to Leinster. Cheika brought him home in 2022.

UAR president Gabriel Travaglini thanked Cheika.

“His professionalism, passion and dedication to Argentine rugby is something we will remember forever,” Travaglini said. 

“Today, we are convinced that Felipe is the right person for this new path towards Australia 2027.”

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