Without a coach and without direction: what is the next step for Rugby Australia after Eddie Jones? | Angus Fontaine
During his short time as coach, Eddie Jones has caused significant harm to Australian rugby.
Jones has departed from his role as the coach of the Wallabies, leaving the team without a leader after only 10 months. He made this decision in order to avoid the negative consequences of a review in November regarding the disastrous 2023 World Cup. This leaves Rugby Australia responsible for finding a new coach who is willing and capable of sorting through the aftermath and creating a team that can bring back the glory of the gold jersey at the 2027 World Cup, which will be held on home turf.
Jones has left the Wallabies without a clear leader, as he has gone through six different captains in his nine matches as coach, but has not empowered any of them for future leadership. Australian rugby must select a permanent captain and inspirational figure, someone who exudes strength, integrity, and respect on the field and whose presence and accomplishments can attract ticket sales off the field.
Reworded: Jones has caused a lack of leadership among the players by banishing faithful followers, rejecting those who sought better opportunities abroad, and leaving a negative impact on the inexperienced players he sent to the World Cup. The ones who stayed and relied on Jones for guidance have been deserted, and he did not make an effort to meet the women’s team he was supposed to mentor and elevate to a professional level by 2029.
Jones has made Rugby Australia appear incompetent by hastily appointing him as the head of both the men’s and women’s programs, resulting in the destruction of the former and neglect of the latter. This decision has negatively affected player morale, disappointed loyal fans, and significantly diminished the value of rugby’s brand for potential sponsors and broadcasters.
The parties and media that Jones criticized and accused have legitimate reasons to feel let down.
It is even more troubling if the media’s claims are accurate and he was pursuing the Japan position before Australia’s World Cup began. This puts RA in a difficult situation as they took a risk with Jones and it did not pay off. How can they regain the trust of others?
Despite their desperation, RA must exercise patience and intelligence in selecting the next Wallabies coach.
Dan McKellar is the man most likely. He has more than 20 years coaching experience in Ireland, Japan and Australia, where he led teams in Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane competitions. After taking over the ACT Brumbies in 2018, the 47-year-old north Queenslander turned them into the No 1 team in the country on the back of a uniquely weaponised rolling maul.
Unlike Jones’s motley coaching crew of NRL and AFL acolytes, McKellar has both the soft skills to unite all Australian rugby’s greatest minds and the hard edge to galvanise players. If RA can bring the states under a centralised roof and woo David Nucifora back from Ireland to run it after his contract ends in 2024, the Wallabies may yet rise from the ruins Jones left.
McKellar cannily smelled bedlam on the breeze when Jones was appointed in January. The former Wallabies forwards coach and senior assistant to Dave Rennie for two years is now three months into a three-year deal with top English Premiership side Leicester Tigers but it’s believed his contract has an exit clause if RA offers him the job as Wallabies head coach.
The top competitor is Stephen Larkham, aged 49, a former Wallaby fly-half who played in 102 tests. He and McKellar have been closely competing in the Australian Capital Territory and Australian coaching circles for the past five years. Larkham served as Michael Cheika’s senior assistant during the 2015 World Cup and played a crucial role in their success in the Rugby Championship and their journey to the World Cup final that year.
After experiencing disappointing outcomes in the 2018-19 season, Larkham was unfairly blamed and fired. Feeling resentful, he departed Australia for a period of three years to serve as coach for the Irish provincial team, Munster. Upon his return last year, he took over as head coach from McKellar at the Brumbies and impressively guided them to the semi-finals. Those familiar with the team noticed that Larkham had significantly enhanced his communication and leadership abilities.
Larkham was a unique player who defied expectations – despite his slim build and reserved personality, he was determined to excel in running. He epitomized the attacking style of rugby known as the “Wallaby way,” which Rugby Australia believes can revive the sport. He was a fearless and skilled strategist who led Australia to a period of dominance with his exceptional abilities and composure. These traits, along with the patience and confidence they inspire, are exactly what Australia is in dire need of.
Additionally, they require intense passion and aggression, and there is a strong contender who embodies these qualities: Cheika, the former coach of the Wallabies and current coach of Argentina. The unconventional 56-year-old recently guided Los Pumas to the semi-finals of the World Cup, with victories against New Zealand, Australia, England, and Scotland in just 16 matches over 15 months. However, his contract has now expired.
RA may not be interested in having Cheika back, as Eddie Jones’ second era was a failure. Regardless, they must let go of Jones as a liability and take action. The upcoming 2025 British and Irish Lions tour and 2027 World Cup will determine the future of rugby in Australia. In order to regain support, they must first find a coach with both skill and charisma.