Former Ireland and Munster head coach Declan Kidney is being strongly linked with the role at London Irish after Brian Smith left the director of rugby role at the Aviva Premiership club today.

The club announced that Australian-born former Ireland international Smith has been released early from his contract and will return to Australia.

London Irish said Smith has been granted early release from his contract - which was due to expire on 30 June this year - on "compassionate grounds" and he will return to Australia for family reasons.

Exiles forwards coach Glenn Delaney will take on the role of interim head coach between now and the end of this season.

Kidney, 55, who coached Munster to Heineken Cup success in 2006 and 2008 and Ireland to the Grand Slam in 2009, is being tipped to take up the reins at the Madejski Stadium for next season.

Irish are currently 20 points clear of Premiership bottom club and red-hot relegation favourites London Welsh, effectively securing their top-flight status for next season.

Former England attack coach Smith, 48, had two spells with Irish as rugby director.

He was in charge between 2005 and 2008, guiding the club to a third-place Premiership finish and the European Challenge Cup final.

"My family has to be my priority right now, which is why I have asked to be released from my contract early," he said.

He also took Irish to the 2008 Heineken Cup semi-finals, when they were beaten by Toulouse at Twickenham.

Smith then spent three years with England, before returning to Irish.

"My family has to be my priority right now, which is why I have asked to be released from my contract early" - Brian Smith

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my 10-year association with London Irish and I will look back on my time with fond memories."

Delaney, meanwhile, will be assisted by Richard Whiffin and Mark Tainton, and the club's academy coaching team of former Exiles players Nick Kennedy, Declan Danaher and Paul Hodgson.

Irish host Grenoble in the European Challenge Cup on Saturday, still harbouring quarter-final ambitions in that competition.

Irish executive chairman David Fitzgerald added: "London Irish is grateful to Brian Smith for the contribution he has made to the club.

"He led us to the greatest experience we've had to date of European rugby, and introduced some great players to the club.

"We believe that, following Sunday's results at Madejski Stadium and Kingston Park (where Newcastle beat London Welsh), our Premiership status for next season is more or less secure and allows us to focus on preparing for next season.

"All involved with London Irish, especially the new owners, would like to personally thank Brian for his considerable contribution over the last two-and-a-half years, and wish him and his family well for the future."