John O'Neill has stood down as chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union (ARU).

The decision comes earlier than O'Neill had originally forecast in the wake of the Wallabies' semifinal elimination at last year's World Cup when he said he would not continue beyond the end of 2013 when his current deal finished.

It is the second time O'Neill has moved on from the job after leaving the ARU in 2004 and then taking charge of Football Federation Australia before returning to rugby in 2007.

The 61-year-old O'Neill and the ARU board controversially re-signed Wallabies coach Robbie Deans for a further two years before the World Cup, so the New Zealander could take his side through to the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia next year.


ARU deputy chief executive Matt Carroll will act as caretaker CEO while a global search is conducted for his long-term replacement.

O'Neill is confident he has left the game in good shape and hopes his successor will be able to lift it to new heights.

"I believe the key planks necessary to drive that development are in place, allowing my successor to build on the solid foundations rugby enjoys and take it to the next level of success,'' he said in a statement.