Melbourne eye Macqueen for Super 15

19:00, Jan 06 2010

Melbourne Super rugby franchise head Harold Mitchell yesterday refused to rule out a role for former World Cup-winning coach Rod Macqueen with the Rebels.

Macqueen, who guided the Wallabies to victory in the 1999 World Cup, was the inaugural coach of the Brumbies in 1997, and is largely credited with developing the ACT into Australia's most successful Super rugby franchise.

After working closely with Mitchell in the Rebels' bid to become the competition's 15th team in 2011, Macqueen is now believed to be weighing up a permanent role with the organisation - possibly either as coaching director or head coach. Mitchell declined to comment on potential candidates for the key off-field positions at the Rebels, including chief executive and coach, but indicated the first announcement could be made as early as next week ''or sometime soon after that''.

Asked about the possibility of Macqueen returning to the coaching ranks nine years after his four-year tenure with the Wallabies ended in 2001, Mitchell said: ''There continues to be speculation about that, but we are not making any announcement at this stage.''

Heineken Cup-winning Australian coach Michael Cheika had been strongly linked to the head coach's job but that was largely due to his decision to leave Leinster at the end of this season after five years in charge of the European champions - a move he announced before SANZAR officials chose Melbourne as the base for the next Super team.

Other names mentioned as possible candidates include Munster's Tony McGahan, Bath's Steve Meehan and John Mulvihill, Wallabies forwards coach Jim Williams, NSW assistant Michael Foley, Japan-based Todd Louden, former Wallabies coach John Connolly and former Test prop Andrew Blades.

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It is expected that the Rebels will want to appoint a chief executive and coach before making any player announcements but Mitchell said talks were already under way with potential recruits. Wallabies stars Berrick Barnes and Rocky Elsom are thought to be top of the hit list but the team will initially have a heavy foreign influence after Melbourne was given permission to sign 10 imports - eight more than other Australian franchises.

As the ARU has precluded Melbourne from signing players from the four other Australian franchises until after the upcoming Super 14 season, it is likely the Rebels will want to announce some big-name overseas recruits to build momentum towards their entry into the competition in a year's time.

However, it is unlikely any Super franchise can compete with the big money on offer in England and France, where officials recently announced a salary cap of €8 million will operate for the coming season and restrictions to gradually reduce the number of imports at each club to 40 percent by the 2012-13 season. The salary cap in England's Guinness Premiership is £4.4m but is expected to be increased in the near future.

With SANZAR officials believed to be keen on allowing Pacific Islanders into the Australian conference and Argentina in the South African conference from 2013, it is believed the Rebels will be encouraged to recruit players from those areas.

South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins said officials would watch the Rebels' foreign recruitment closely.

''If franchises are open to internationals, it could add a new dynamic to the southern hemisphere series. With 10 internationals, the Melbourne franchise will essentially be an international franchise,'' he told BusinessDay.

Sydney Morning Herald