Rugby: Stephen Larkham axed as Wallabies assistant coach

Larkham and Cheika.
Larkham and Cheika. Photo credit: Getty

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has axed assistant Stephen Larkham, eight months out from the Rugby World Cup.

The World Cup-winning former Wallabies five-eighth says he and coach Cheika couldn't agree on key points of attacking strategy and game philosophy.

The axing follows the Wallabies' dismal year, in which they slipped to a record-low seven in the world rankings.

Rugby Australia (RA) said the decision was made by Cheika and Larkham would shift to a new role as national high performance coach advisor immediately.

The Wallabies struggled through their worst season in 60 years in 2018, slumping to a 4-9 win-loss record.

The results sparked a review by RA, which subsequently signed Scott Johnson in the new position of director of rugby, returning from a similar role for Scotland as Cheika's direct boss, as it attempts to breathe new life into the Wallabies' World Cup campaign.

Continuing the clean-out, head of athletic preparation Haydn Masters has resigned from his post with the team after four seasons.

Larkham was the Wallabies attack coach since early 2015, helping steer the team to a surprise Rugby World Cup final later that year, after less than 12 months under Cheika.

Larkham, who has 102 test caps, said he and Cheika could no longer see eye-to-eye.

"Ultimately, Michael is responsible for the performance of the team," Larkham said in a statement issue by RA.

"We have differences in attacking strategy and overall game philosophy.

"We couldn't agree on these key points, and it is in the best interest of the team that they receive clear and consistent messages from their coaches.

"I am obviously disappointed with this outcome, as I had chosen to pursue the experience of taking the Wallabies through to the World Cup. However I am pleased to be able to continue coaching and contributing to Australian rugby in this new role."

Larkham's new position will focus on coach mentoring, coaching and skills development across the Australian Sevens programme, Junior Wallabies, state U20s academies and Wallaroos.

RA said it would also support former Brumbies coach Larkham in his transition into another head coach role.