Eddie Jones held a secret meeting at the end of last month with the Japanese Rugby Football Union about becoming the national side’s next head coach, despite having four years left on his contract with the Wallabies.
The revelations in the Sydney Morning Herald led to Rugby Australia’s chief executive Phil Waugh holding an extraordinary press conference just hours before Australia faced Wales in a must-win match to remain in the Rugby World Cup.
Speaking at a fan event in Lyon less than four hours before kick-off, Waugh admitted that he was surprised by the revelations while insisting that Jones had told him that reports he had spoken to JRFU officials about the role were false.
“It’s surprising but you take people for their word and you trust the team,” Waugh said. “He said he hasn’t [had an interview] and if he has then that’s something we will deal with at a time it becomes evident.
“I am a firm believer in taking people for their word and it would be disappointing but for right now it’s about speculation about what conversations have been had.”
Waugh added that crashing out of the Rugby World Cup in the pool stages for the first time would be unacceptable, with Australia’s participation in the knockouts in jeopardy before facing Wales following the first loss to Fiji in 69 years.
“It would be very disappointing,” Waugh noted. “As a pass mark I have always said for a Rugby World Cup and a leading nation like Australia getting through to semi-final is what you want you should aspire and less than that is not where you want to be.”
According to the Herald, Jones conducted a Zoom interview with Japan officials on Aug 25, two days before Australia’s warm-up fixture in Paris against France – which they lost 41-17 – and just two weeks before the opening match of the World Cup.
The report adds that Jones was open to holding a second interview with Japan officials in France to discuss the role. Jones is understood to be one of the final three candidates for the role to succeed Jamie Joseph, with a JRFU spokesperson adding that the new head coach had not been decided yet.
Jones previously enjoyed great success with Japan in 2015, defeating South Africa in Brighton but missing out on the knockout stages, before joining England in 2016.
Having been rehired by Rugby Australia after he was sacked by England last December, Jones signed a long-term contract running through to the 2027 Rugby World Cup on a reported salary of $750,000 AUS (£395,000).
‘It’s good to have options by the sound of it’
Jones was appointed by Rugby Australia chair Hamish McLennan, replacing Dave Rennie, to spark a revival in the Wallabies’ fortunes ahead of the British and Irish Lions series in 2025 and the World Cup on home soil two years later.
But Australia prior to facing Wales had won only one of their seven matches under Jones, against Georgia at the start of the World Cup, with Jones jettisoning a number of veteran players and opting to pick a younger side for the tournament, with the Wallabies now at risk of missing out on the knockout stages for the first time in their history.
Jason Ryles, Australia’s assistant coach who also worked with Jones when he was in charge of England, echoed Waugh’s sentiments when speaking at Australia’s captain’s run on Saturday.
“To walk away from that would be a bit of a surprise because there is a lot of green shoots for the future. I’m not too sure what he’ll do to be honest with you. It’s good to have options by the sounds of it.”