Jack Snape reports that Eddie Jones is set to leave the Wallabies as his tenure as coach for Rugby Australia has been unsuccessful.
After 11 months, it is clear that re-hiring Eddie Jones as Wallabies coach was the turning point for Rugby Australia’s downfall.
When Jones returned, it caused a combination of surprise and a feeling of predictability. When he was fired from his position as England’s coach in December, there was less than a year until the 2023 World Cup. The main worry when it was announced in January was if Jones would have sufficient time to improve the performance of the Wallabies. Ultimately, he had too much time.
RA and its chairman Hamish McLennan made a bold decision to bring in a new coach and a new approach, despite the concerns of the rugby community. This change came after Dave Rennie, who previously held the position, faced difficulties in leading the Wallabies to victory in close matches. The timing of this transition, with only a few games left before the tournament in France, was daring.
The hiring of the coach brought hope to dedicated rugby supporters. At the very least, the comeback of the beloved media personality, who had become an international rugby icon, provided a boost to the struggling sport and may help it regain attention in the Australian sports scene. Since the 2027 World Cup will be held in Australia, it seemed fitting to bring back the coach who led the team during the 2003 tournament.
At first, things looked promising: Jones played a role in getting rugby back in the spotlight. At a highly-attended media event, McLennan aimed to clarify the rationale. “This is a chance to secure a coach with vast knowledge and experience in major competitions, and we couldn’t let it slip away.”
Jones had an established reputation as a coach on an international level, having achieved success with Australia, Japan, and England. While watching the cricket and contemplating the Wallabies’ future, rugby enthusiasts couldn’t imagine the team performing any worse than they already had.
Ultimately, during Jones’ tenure, Australia’s main goal was to remain competitive. The aim was to win a Test or two against the All Blacks and Springboks, or at the very least, minimize the margin of defeat. Additionally, young players were given the opportunity to gain experience in preparation for the 2027 World Cup. It was also important for Australia to maintain their streak of never being eliminated before the quarter-finals stage in the World Cup.
This would have made even skeptics more accepting of Jones’s perspective on the world – a combination of a smile and a snarl, mostly characterized by propaganda. In his initial media briefing upon returning to his position, he stated, “What brings success in World Cups and captures the hearts of people are teams that play with determination.” He continued, “We aim to revive the sense of pride in Australian rugby. That is our top priority.”
However, even during the initial phase, there were indications of potential problems. Jones shared, “I used to constantly make plans upon plans and have papers scattered everywhere.” As he got older, he learned the importance of having a general idea in mind, but not becoming too rigid in following a specific plan.
At the press conference, McLennan promised to give Jones “whatever he desires.” It appeared that Jones was guaranteed success, but as a spoiler, he ultimately failed.
In his three years as leader, Rennie had accomplished a significant amount of the difficult tasks. He had brought in promising young players such as Nick Frost, Mark Nawaqanitawase, and Ben Donaldson, and relied on experienced players like former captain Michael Hooper – a player surprisingly not selected by Jones – who likely had one more World Cup ahead of them.
Rennie initiated the process of rejuvenation while still maintaining their competitiveness. Although the Wallabies had a winning rate of just over one-third under the New Zealander, they did suffer their first loss to Italy. However, they were also able to defeat Wales and only narrowly lost to Ireland and France. These outcomes could have been sufficient to retain Jones in his position.
However, in the year 2023, Australian rugby experienced something different. They faced heavy losses against South Africa and New Zealand in July, and suffered a defeat at home against Argentina. Throughout these struggles, Eddie was always there, attempting to market something.
More and more individuals were not making purchases. Jones was experiencing mounting pressure. Prior to heading to the competition in France, he expressed his frustration towards the local media. Jones stated at a press conference, “I am aware of the issues with Australian rugby and some of you gentlemen are contributing to the problem. If you do not have anything constructive to say, please do not ask.”
The inquiries became increasingly intense. Losing to France before the World Cup revealed that Australia was still not able to compete. And it only got worse from there. A shocking defeat to Fiji followed, and just as the team was gearing up for a crucial match against Wales, news broke in the Sydney Morning Herald that Jones had been interviewed for the Japan coaching position.
The atmosphere had completely changed. Jones was the epitome of success in Australian rugby. With his leadership, the Wallabies’ courageous loss to Jonny Wilkinson’s England at the 2003 World Cup solidified the team as Australia’s most beloved international sports brand.
However, by 2023, the landscape of the sports world had transformed. There were grumblings of dissatisfaction when Jones was placed in charge of both the men’s and women’s pathways, despite showing little interest in the women’s game. These grumblings escalated in August when the Wallaroos released a synchronized social media statement accusing Jones of favoring the men’s team. With the mainstream recognition of the Matildas ushering in a new era of sports in Australia, it was clear that 2003 was a distant memory.
Jones was considered a revolutionary in the sport of rugby, with a knack for instilling a fierce determination in his teams. He was also signed on for a five-year period. Achieving success on the field can often quiet naysayers, and a victory against Wales at the World Cup would have further solidified his reputation. However, his players suffered a crushing 40-6 defeat, marking the Wallabies’ most devastating loss in World Cup history and exposing Jones to harsh criticism.
The individual, aged 63, has consistently refuted seeking the position in Japan and stated his dedication to the Wallabies. Upon his return from France, he announced, “I am remaining here, my friend.”
After two weeks, it seems that he has very few remaining friends in Australian rugby. RA is currently dealing with legal procedures regarding his departure.
He will depart with a record of two victories and seven defeats, a lower winning percentage than Rennie’s, and accountability for the Wallabies’ most disappointing World Cup showing.
While Jones’ appointment may have been unexpected, his departure lacks any element of surprise. Just a week before accepting the Australian job, he stated that Japan is where he feels most at ease. As Jones takes a break, Rugby Australia and McLennan must continue their efforts anew.