England have the opportunity to put together a heavyweight coaching team of Jake White and Wayne Smith to lead England into the 2015 Rugby World Cup on home soil.
White and Smith have both won the World Cup – with South Africa and New Zealand respectively – and they are interested in bringing that experience to a new-look England set-up.
White, who tasted global success in 2007, has confirmed he wants to be England’s next head coach after being approached about the job by the Rugby Football Union.
Smith was one of New Zealand’s “three wise men” – along with Graham Henry and Steve Hanson – who masterminded the All Blacks’ triumph last October.
The 55-year-old is not interested in the top job but says he is keen on a return to international rugby as part of a new-look England management team.
Neither White nor Smith would be available to start with England until after the summer tour of South Africa because both coaches have Super Rugby commitments until June.
But the RFU’s chief executive, Ian Ritchie, has confirmed he will be prepared to wait until the start of next season if it means recruiting the right coaching team.
England’s current interim coach, Stuart Lancaster, and former South Africa and Italy coach Nick Mallett are also understood to be in contention.
White, who is eight months into a four-year deal with Australian team the ACT Brumbies, did not apply for the England job before the February 15 deadline.
But the very fact the RFU contacted him suggests White is now the front-runner to become Martin Johnson’s permanent successor.
Brumbies chief executive Andrew Fagan said: “Obviously this is a terrific opportunity for Jake White, and one which reflects his status as one of the world’s leading coaches.
“That said, Jake is in the first of a four-year contract with the Brumbies, and there are many details that would need to be worked through should he be successful with his application.”
Smith did not apply for the position either, turned off by a job description he called “woolly” and more suitable for a director of rugby than a hands-on coach.
But the former Northampton coach, currently working with the Chiefs in Super Rugby, wants to return to the international stage and he views England as an exciting opportunity.
“I didn’t think the head coach’s job fitted my skill set. It looked like an elite performance job and really my interest is in coaching,” said Smith.
“When the job is filled, I want to be involved in international rugby again. I like England. If there is an opportunity there I would be interested.”
If White was appointed to start in July, the RFU would ask former Leeds coach Lancaster to continue in his role as interim coach and lead England on the summer tour.
Lancaster would then be in the odd position of coaching England in three Test matches against the Springboks knowing the RFU had rejected his application for the full-time post.
It would also mean White’s first game in charge would be against Fiji on November 10, nearly a year after Johnson announced he was standing down in the wake of England’s World Cup debacle.
Lancaster picked up the reins on an interim basis and his work on and off the field to restore the image of English rugby has impressed Twickenham executives.
But with success at the 2015 World Cup England’s priority, top-level international coaching experience appears to be one of the RFU’s key criteria.
John Kirwan coached Italy and Japan to three World Cups but his application for the job was turned down because he has not been in charge of a top eight team.
Mallett coached South Africa to a record 17 successive wins and past England into the 1999 World Cup semi-finals before enjoying a successful stint with Stade Francais and four years with Italy.
“Stuart has done well over the last few weeks and he has obviously made a good impression. That has been reflected in the fact he has been short-listed,” said Smith.
“Nick Mallett has a history behind him that says he is up to the job. They are both strong candidates.”