RA’s new high-performance chief revealed as post-Eddie era begins

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Rugby Australia is set to appoint a highly experienced World Rugby official as their new director of high performance – and the recruitment could help put a former World Rugby coach of the year into the frame for the Wallabies vacancy.

After an extensive process, Rugby Australia have settled on respected Sydney sports executive Peter Horne as the man to fill the new, and critically important, role of Head of High Performance, this masthead has learned.

Horne was shortlisted with former Australian sevens coach and current Harlequins Director of Rugby Billy Millard, and former Wallabies captain James Horwill. RUPA boss Justin Harrison was also a candidate before withdrawing.

Final negotiations are still being conducted but an announcement is likely in the next week.

Horne’s recruitment is regarded as a strong result for Australian rugby, given his extensive experience in running high-performance programs in rugby for almost 20 years.

The Sydney-based executive is the currently most senior figure in World Rugby’s high-performance department, having been General Manager of High Performance since 2015, and Director of High Performance from 2021.

Peter Horne (centre) on a visit to South America for World Rugby’s high performance team.

In those roles, Horne detailed on LinkedIn he is “responsible for leading the High-Performance programme that oversees a significant multi-million dollar portfolio, across 32 countries globally, with the strategic priority of improving competitiveness of international rugby.”

Horne has overseen World Rugby’s huge investment in developing regions like the Pacific and South America over the last eight years, where the governing body have poured tens of millions of dollars into improving competitions, high-performance structures, and playing and coaching pathways, to help tier two countries become competitive at Rugby World Cups. That included World Rugby co-funding the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika teams to join Super Rugby.

The success of national teams like Fiji, Portugal, Georgia and Uruguay at the 2023 Rugby World Cup showed the success of World Rugby’s efforts, under Horne.

Before World Rugby, Horne also worked as General Manager at giant English club, Saracens and was also high-performance manager at Equestrian Australia.

Fiji’s success at the 2023 Rugby World Cup was helped by the work of Horne’s World Rugby high performance program.Credit: Getty

Getting the right person for the job was vital for Rugby Australia given the new Director of High-Performance role is set to be an all-powerful position.

Horne will not only be responsible for building and managing systems to identify, recruit and develop young talent, and driving all men’s and women’s national senior programs, but he’ll also have the critical job of pulling together Rugby Australia’s historic centralisation of Super Rugby high-performance systems.

As part of Rugby Australia’s renewed push to centralise, all states have agreed to align all under one high-performance system, which will likely see all players, coaches and key staff employed by Rugby Australia and operating under a connected plan.

Horne’s duties will not stop there, however, with chief executive Phil Waugh and new chairman Daniel Herbert saying the new Director of High Performance also set to be heavily involved in the recruitment of the next Wallabies coach.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, who requested anonymity to speak freely, Horne is close with former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, after the Kiwi coach worked in a World Rugby high-performance role in 2020-2021.

Schmidt was hugely successful as coach of Ireland between 2013 and 2019, and was instrumental in taking the Irish from a middle-ranking side to one of the best in the world. Schmidt oversaw a period of huge success for Ireland, which saw them beat New Zealand for the first time in history in 2016 (and again in 2018), and achieve a world no.1 ranking for the first time ever.

Schmidt was named World Rugby coach of the Year in 2018, but left the role after Ireland had a disappointing 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign.

He left the World Rugby high-performance role to head home to New Zealand in 2022, and later returned to the All Blacks coaching set-up as an attack coach.

Joe Schmidt, assistant head coach of the All Blacks, acknowledges the crowd at the World Cup.Credit: Getty

As Ireland coach, Schmidt worked closely with David Nucifora, who is the Irish Rugby Football Union’s powerful head of high performance.

Nucifora is finishing up with the IRFU after ten years midway through 2024, and is due to return to Australia.

Though Waugh has been in constant contact with the former Brumbies coach, Nucifora wasn’t interested in taking on the director of high performance job in Australia. But informed sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, say there have been discussions about Nucifora working in a consultancy role in the future.

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