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Having arrived early at Coogee Oval for a press conference, Eddie Jones strolled out to the centre of his old stomping ground to inspect the cricket pitch.
Three decades after he hung up his boots, Coogee Oval remains a spiritual home ground for Jones – and when media asked Rugby Australia to schedule a post-World Cup debrief with the Wallabies coach, he turned to familiar turf.
With widened reports claiming his links to Japan and a rumour Jones might quit, the media scrum waiting was sizeable. But while his history as a hooker who once packed down against the All Blacks in Coogee seemed fitting, it was actually Jones’ experience as a cricketer that came to the fore.
It’s a lesser-known fact that Jones also played 13 years of grade cricket for Randwick, and as he might have done on the greenish Coogee Oval deck, Jones then took guard in front of the media pack and dug in for a defensive innings.
The short-pitched bowling began immediately.
Have you had contact with Japanese rugby?
“I haven’t been speaking to anyone, mate.”
Eddie Jones and Rugby Australia head of communications Mark McCartney walk out to inspect the Coogee Oval pitch.Credit: Getty
No third parties, like a recruitment agency?
“Not that I am aware of.”
Have you had spoken with your old friend and JRFU president (Masato Tsuchida)?
“Not for a long time.”
Given you denied contact with England in 2015 and then left the Stormers, why should we believe you now? “That’s a different situation.”
They were short, abrupt answers, putting the ball back at the feet of the questioner.
When a fuller question was pitched up, Jones was happier to free his arms and play a shot. Asked to reflect on the World Cup campaign, Jones spoke at length about not regretting his decision to take Australia’s most inexperienced squad to a Rugby World Cup and that young players like Angus Bell, Nick Frost and Rob Valetini still had their best years ahead of them.
“We just weren’t good enough. You just have to look at the quarter-finals at the weekend. We’re not at that level,” Jones said. “And we can’t pretend to be at that level. But can we be at that level by 2027? Yes, we can.
Eddie Jones fields questions from reporters at Coogee Oval.Credit: Steve Siewert
“Sometimes, you know, when you have change, everyone hates change because it’s uncomfortable. Everyone likes the status quo. And we had the courage, whether it be the right courage, to make the choice that we’re going to go with the youngest squad, and I think this younger squad is going to stand Australia in good stead.”
Jones’ dead bat returned when asked if he had a second interview scheduled with Japan next month – “no” – and if Rugby Australia wanted him to stay, would he guarantee he’d stay? “Yep.”
But then Jones let loose again when quizzed on the need for better alignment in Australian rugby, to rise to the levels of Ireland and France.
“Like, this is not a simple equation that the Wallabies are bad,” he said. “Like, let’s be serious about this.
The Wallabies are not where they need to be but underneath that we need to fix the system to go forward.”
Eddie Jones fronts the media in Sydney for the first time since the World Cup.Credit: Steven Siewert
Normally, Jones returning from a Rugby World Cup espousing the need for better alignment in Australian rugby, and pointing towards the growth potential of young players in the build-up to 2027, would make plenty of sense.
But the ongoing question marks – and a reckoning still to come around Jones’ future at Rugby Australia – relate to two decisions the coach made in August.
The first was to turf experienced men from his World Cup squad and take those fresh players to get battered at the World Cup. The second decision was to jump on a Zoom job interview with the Japanese Rugby Football Union about their head coach vacancy, in the days before the tournament.
The former will come under scrutiny in Rugby Australia’s independent review of the World Cup, which is set to begin shortly. On Tuesday, Jones prevaricated about seeing out his contract through to 2027 by pointing to the potential for him to be sacked.
Eddie Jones at the Rugby World Cup.Credit: AP
“It’s not absolutely my decision is it?” Jones said. “We have a review going forward, and we will see what happens at the end of the review.”
But the Japan question also remains a live one, despite Jones’ repeated denials.
The Herald’s exclusive report on Jones’ interviewing with the JRFU last month has since been followed by multiple media outlets in Japan, the UK and even the ABC, citing their own confidential sources.
Jones said he had no explanation for why he’d been linked to Japan and hadn’t put any thought into it.
Jones declined to answer if he had exit clauses in his contract that would allow him to take up the role.
RA has remained mostly silent on Jones and the Japan reports, and in a story that now has two firmly stated, but polar opposite, explanations, it is trusting Jones’ word.
Trust will be a critical issue as the next month or two unfolds. There would be political fall-out, no doubt, but Jones taking the Japan job could potentially be the simplest of several thorny scenarios facing Rugby Australia before Christmas.
If Jones stays, as he abruptly pledged, RA will have a tough choice to make.
Is Eddie Jones still the man they – and the ticket-buying Australian public – trust to take the Wallabies into the most crucial four-year stretch in Australian rugby’s professional history?
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