One-Test prop Dan Palmer is poised to become the Wallabies’ scrum coach on the spring tour just three years after retiring from professional rugby and dropping 20 kilograms from his front-row frame.
Fairfax Media can reveal former Brumbies prop Palmer has joined the Wallabies camp on the Gold Coast in advance of the third Bledisloe Cup match on Saturday night.
The 29-year-old is in line to replace outgoing set-piece mentor Mario Ledesma, who has signed a deal to become head coach of the Jaguares, Argentina’s Super Rugby team.
Palmer made his Test debut for in 2012 but retired from rugby two years later, citing a lack of passion for the game and persistent foot injuries as the reasons for prematurely ending his career.
He dropped 20 kilograms from his 117-kilogram playing weight and started studying at the n National University.
Palmer has maintained a passion for scrums at the Brumbies and is highly regarded in n rugby as a set-piece guru.
It is understood Palmer will work with the Wallabies on a part-time basis in coming weeks and will miss part of the spring tour to Japan and Europe while he completes university commitments in Canberra.
Palmer flew to the Gold Coast on Tuesday and had his first training session with the Wallabies at Cbus Super Stadium after being contacted by coach Michael Cheika a number of weeks ago.
He was spotted chatting to Ledesma as well as a number of players, notably ones he has worked with at the Brumbies, such as Rory Arnold.
Due to his tight schedule, Palmer flew back to Canberra on Tuesday evening.
He is expected to join the Wallabies for at least the last two matches of the spring tour in England and Scotland.
Palmer’s appointment shows how highly Cheika rates him and although no decision has been made on whether the young coach will be kept on in a full-time capacity, it is understood he is Cheika’s No.1 pick.
Cheika said last week he had spoken with Palmer, former Queensland Reds coach Nick Stiles and Western Force forwards mentor Joe Barakat about filling Ledesma’s shoes.
“Dan’s got state commitments,” Cheika said. “I’d be naive to not look straight at our coaches at the next level … to try and work out what the best mix might be.”
Palmer quit rugby when he was 26 after a season in France and just two years after playing his one Test against Scotland.
“Retiring from professional rugby is not a decision I made lightly,” Palmer said at the time. “Although ongoing injuries were a part, I would say they were not the primary reasons I made the call to stop playing.
“My passion for playing the game just isn’t where it used to be and I’m not prepared to dedicate such a large portion of my time to something I was beginning to not enjoy.”
Former Argentina hooker Ledesma will leave n rugby after the third Bledisloe Cup match to move home for the first time in 18 years, but he said he wasn’t thinking about anything else aside from the game on the weekend.
“To be fair [I am] pretty focused on the job and that’s not a cliche, but that’s the way it is, especially playing [the All Blacks],” Ledesma said. “If we were playing, no offence, Romania, it would be different, but I have to keep focus because it’s a big game and we really think we have a chance of taking this one.”
Ledesma conceded there were tears in the sheds after ‘s win in Mendoza when he informed the playing group of his decision to walk away from the Wallabies.
“There was a lot of talk after the game, apparently, so Cheik felt it was the right thing to do to tell the players first before it came out in the press,” Ledesma said. “I assumed I was doing it the next day, but it came as a surprise. It was the right thing to do and I’m kind of emotional, so there was a lot of tears and crying – yeah, pretty embarrassing – but at this point, I do it so often, I’m cool with it. There was a lot of emotion and real emotion. Again, not sadness, just emotion because of all the things we shared together.”