The Rugby Football Union insists it has not made an approach to Warren Gatland despite sources telling Telegraph Sport that the New Zealander has become the front runner to replace Eddie Jones as England head coach.
With the two men preparing to lock horns in Saturday's Guinness Six Nations Championship clash in Cardiff, sources have indicated the Wales coach has become the leading candidate to replace his counterpart given his record on the international stage and extensive knowledge of the English game.
Jones's contract runs until 2021 – he signed an extension last year – but it contains a break clause depending on how England perform at the World Cup in Japan.
The Rugby Football Union stated in January last year that it wanted a successor to Jones in place by 2020 to ensure a smooth transition that would avoid the kind of large-scale overhauls that followed the 2007, 2011 and 2015 World Cups. It was proposed that the new man would work alongside Jones.
Nigel Melville, the RFU interim chief executive, said in December that he intended to speak to Gatland, along with several other candidates, as part of his search for a successor to Jones, a process that had begun before April last year.
Suggestions that Gatland had already been sounded out about the position were rejected by the RFU on Monday night. An RFU spokeswoman said: "No conversations have been had with any possible succession candidates."
Gatland, who has been in charge of Wales for more than 11 years, he plans to step down from Wales after the World Cup, which runs from September to November.
The New Zealander, whose Wales side host England at the Principality Stadium with both sides unbeaten in this year's Six Nations, has yet to indicate his plans for when he steps down. However, he revealed at a Welsh Rugby Union dinner last month that he had held "informal conversations" over the possibility of coaching the 2021 Lions tour to South Africa.
While the process has been disrupted somewhat by the surprise resignation of Steve Brown as RFU chief executive in November, following criticism of the governing body's financial position, it remains confident of securing a top-drawer candidate. Despite the RFU's stated preference to appoint an Englishman as head coach, Gatland's experience of the northern-hemisphere game, which includes coaching on three Lions tours, the last two as head coach, would make the 55-year-old an attractive option.
As well as guiding the Lions to a series victory against Australia in 2013 and the widely heralded drawn series against New Zealand in 2017, Gatland has also won three Six Nations titles with Wales, including two Grand Slams.
Gatland's club career is equally impressive, having blazed a trail as head coach of Wasps after losing his position as head coach with Ireland in 2001, guiding the London club to three Premiership titles and a Heineken Cup. Telegraph Sport revealed in 2015 that the RFU had attempted to hire the New Zealander on the back of that success back in 2007, when he was invited for an interview for the newly created position of elite director of rugby.
Gatland said that he had been flown to Sydney to be interviewed but ended up withdrawing from the process because he was more interested in a coaching job than an office-based position.
Meanwhile, Wales have issued a positive update on fly-half Dan Biggar. Biggar went off with a knee heavily strapped just 20 minutes into Northampton's Gallagher Premiership victory over Sale on Saturday. Northampton rugby director Chris Boyd said Biggar had suffered "a tiny tweak" and his exit had been precautionary.