BRISBANE, Australia - The hunt was under way for a new Wallabies coach Sunday after the sensational resignation of Ewen McKenzie in the wake of a heartbreaking 29-28 loss to the All Blacks in Brisbane.
McKenzie dropped his bombshell shortly after Malakai Fekitoa's last-gasp converted try clinched the game for New Zealand in the final Bledisloe Cup Test.
McKenzie's unexpected exit adds to the turmoil engulfing Australian rugby in the fall-out over the Kurtley Beale text scandal, and comes just days before the Wallabies depart on their European tour.
Australian Rugby Union chief Bill Pulver has the pressing task of finding a replacement for McKenzie, with Super Rugby-winning coach Michael Cheika and former Springbok World Cup-winning mentor Jake White linked with the job.
"I've got a lot of work to do in the next couple of days," Pulver told a press conference in Brisbane Sunday.
"The great challenge we've got is the team leaves on Friday. I would love to think we've a chance to find somebody that can actually get on the plane with them." Pulver said if that was not possible then an interim coach would be appointed to get the Wallabies through their five-match tour in Europe against the Barbarians, Wales, France, Ireland and England next month.
"I've got a list of options in mind and I've got a lot of work to do (but) I did not expect Ewen McKenzie to resign yesterday," Pulver said.
"I found out about it at 10am. I'd had no conversations with any other coaches about this prospect.
"At this point, I don't even know who can get on a plane on Friday. So next step for the rest of this day is trying to understand where we sit in terms of the options we've got and trying to make some progress."
Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper denied reports that McKenzie was forced out because of a lack of support from the playing group.
"I don't think he lost the respect of the players to be honest," Hooper told the media conference.
"Last night's game showed that he didn't lose the respect of the players.
"He really showed what he's worth in the back end of the week. We played for him, we played for everyone in the staff, we played for everyone as a group, so he didn't lose the respect of the players."
Hooper said he respected McKenzie's decision to abruptly walk out after he was forced to deny speculation last week of an intimate relationship with former team business manager Di Patston, at the centre of disciplinary proceedings facing Beale.
Beale has been suspended following an on-flight argument with Patston and claims that he sent offensive text messages about her. She has since quit the Wallabies set-up.
"You have to respect his decision as an individual. So he's got his reasons for that and we respect those," Hooper said.
"After the game to come in and finish like that and it was a blow to hear about Ewen McKenzie's departure after the match but we respect his decision as an individual.
"On behalf of the players, he has done a lot for the players, so we wish him all the best and thank him for his contribution.
"As a group, we're united and we are looking forward to the five-week tour that we have coming up this Friday."