Rugby-Rebels oust Hill, install McGahan as coach

MELBOURNE, July 8 (Reuters) – The Melbourne Rebels have continued their end-of-season clean-out by sacking head coach Damien Hill, a day after sensationally dumping Australia back James O’Connor.

Hill will be replaced by former Munster coach Tony McGahan who joins the struggling Super Rugby franchise on a two-year deal, the team said in a statement on Monday.

“Tony comes to Melbourne highly regarded as an international coach with a record of success at the top level,” Rebels chief executive Rob Clarke said.

“In particular, his time at Munster was a memorable period for the famous club, with multiple titles in the Heineken Cup and Celtic League (now RaboDirect Pro 12).”

McGahan was appointed an assistant to Australia coach Robbie Deans last year. It was unclear whether he would remain in the Wallabies role, with the Australian Rugby Union expected to fire Deans this week in the wake of the 2-1 series loss to the British and Irish Lions.

McGahan’s appointment puts an end to speculation that Ewen McKenzie, outgoing coach of the rival Queensland Reds, would take over the Rebels post if overlooked for the Wallabies role.

McKenzie is in a two-horse race to replace Deans with former World Cup-winning coach Jake White, according to local media.

Tipped for a big improvement in their third season of Super Rugby, the Rebels have disappointed during a tough year marred by injuries and discipline problems with key players.

Hill, an assistant to inaugural Rebels coach Rod Macqueen, managed only four wins after taking over from the World Cup-winning mentor last year and has added only four wins this year with one match left to play in the regular season.

The Rebels announced mid-season that the team would not guarantee Hill a contract extension and would replace him in the off-season if they found a suitable candidate.

The announcement came weeks after marquee signing Kurtley Beale punched captain Gareth Delve and another team mate in a boozy incident on a team bus in South Africa.

Along with fellow Wallabies playmaker Beale, O’Connor’s recruitment last year was to have been the platform for the Rebels’ bid for a maiden appearance in the playoffs but the team have reaped little value from the pair due to a string of injuries and off-field problems.

Beale’s future at the Melbourne club remains under a cloud, but with O’Connor leaving along with Delve and a clutch of retiring players, the Rebels are likely to have some room in their salary cap to retain the troubled back.

Hill will coach the Rebels for their last game of the season at home to New Zealand’s Highlanders on Friday. (Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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