French rugby president Bernard Laporte has revealed Joe Schmidt would have been his preferred choice to replace Jacues Brunel as coach.
Brunel's contract is up after this year's World Cup but in a referendum of French clubs, 59% voted against the prospect of hiring a foreign coach as his successor.
Outgoing Wales head coach Warren Gatland was believed to be among the possible candidates but Laporte told French radio station RMC that he would have tried to sign up Schmidt, who has declared his intention to take a break from rugby after six years in charge of Ireland.
"My number one choice was not Warren Gatland, it was was Joe Schmidt because he speaks French like you and I," said Laporte. "He coached Clermont.
Laporte said he had "gone to meet the five best coaches in the world to offer them the job" but had not agreed any deals and would "respect this choice" of the the French clubs.
"We have to go as fast as possible, I also have French coaches on the phone."