Bath look south for coach

South African Gary Gold and Australian Michael Cheika are the top two contenders to become head coach of Aviva Premiership club Bath, Press Association Sport understands.

skysport.co.nz, Friday, 6 April 2012 7:27 a.m.

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South African Gary Gold and Australian Michael Cheika are the top two contenders to become head coach of Aviva Premiership club Bath, Press Association Sport understands.

It is also believed that Nick Mallett, who was recently beaten to the role of England boss by Stuart Lancaster, is not being considered by Recreation Ground chiefs.

Bath announced today that rugby director Sir Ian McGeechan will leave his post at the end of this season.

McGeechan's exit, which coincides with the end of an existing two-year contract, will spark a coaching reshuffle.

Press Association Sport has learnt that Bath forwards coach Martin Haag is also set to depart, although the club's current skills and defence specialist Brad Davis could remain.

Bath say they are making "good progress" in identifying a head coach, claiming a new structure and coaches will be agreed and in place during the summer in readiness for next season.

McGeechan, 65, initially joined Bath as performance director. He held previous coaching roles with Northampton and Wasps, and is synonymous with the British and Irish Lions, having headed up four tours during a 20-year spell.

Bath chief executive Nick Blofeld said: "We would like to thank 'Geech' for his time with the club and for his assistance in developing the culture at the club through this transitional period.

"An announcement regarding a new head coach will be made in due course."

Gold is currently in temporary charge of Premiership relegation favourites Newcastle, while Cheika is at French club Stade Francais.

Gold took the reins in January, charged with trying to keep Newcastle in English rugby's top flight, but they are currently eight points adrift at the basement with just three league games left.

Former Harlequins supremo Dean Richards, whose three-year worldwide coaching ban imposed following his role in the 2009 Bloodgate saga expires this summer, has already been appointed as Falcons rugby director next term.

Gold has previous Premiership experience with London Irish, and he arrived at Kingston Park after being part of South Africa's coaching staff during the World Cup in New Zealand last autumn.

Cheika, meanwhile, led Leinster to European title glory in 2009, and he went close to European success with Stade last season before they suffered an agonising Amlin Challenge Cup final defeat against Harlequins.

Bath's confirmation of McGeechan leaving them ends intense speculation surrounding his future.

Bath have endured an erratic season, finding themselves well adrift of the Premiership play-off race and struggling to secure automatic qualification for next season's Heineken Cup.

Their woes were compounded by a 26-6 home defeat against Northampton last Saturday night that resulted in the club's coaching staff apologising to supporters for what was an abject performance.

Bath also made a pool stage exit from this season's Heineken Cup, which would have been a source of huge frustration for their multi-millionaire owner Bruce Craig.

McGeechan said: "I've really enjoyed being part of Bath Rugby and the challenge of leading the cultural change that has taken place, particularly over the last 18 months.

"The commitment of the players and staff during this significant transitional period has been outstanding.

"I will now take on the responsibility as head coach for the last three games."

Bath say they will be making no further comment at this stage.

Former Scotland coach McGeechan took charge of the Lions in 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2009, while he was rugby director at Northampton during the late 1990s before heading back to Murrayfield as Scotland's rugby director.

He then took over at Wasps in 2005, landing the Heineken Cup during his second season at the helm, and moved to Bath almost two years ago following a brief stint as coaching advisor with their west country rivals Gloucester.

Bath have three Premiership games remaining this season - against Sale Sharks, Wasps and Leicester - in an attempt to secure top flight European qualification. They currently lie eighth.