Out of touch, out of luck, out of time. Eddie Jones has been a roguish constant in Test rugby for over 20 years, turning himself into a one-man vaudeville act with his lethal tongue and rapier wit. Except nobody is laughing any longer, least of all Australia. The 63-year-old sweet-talked his way back into the Wallabies job on the pretext that his country needed his Solomonic wisdom to succeed. Eight months later, he has guided this team only to rank humiliation, with a first World Cup pool-stage exit in their history on the cards. Belatedly, his compatriots think they have been duped by someone who has talked a far better game than he has delivered.
It is unconscionable that Jones carries on. Forget all the flannel that he could yet turn Australia into world-beaters in 2027. In eight Test matches he has contrived only to beat Georgia, with that miserable sequence reaching its most vivid expression with this capitulation to a Wales side who could scarcely believe the flimsy resistance. “We’ll beat Wales,” he had declared, with an impish smile. Who was he kidding? In taking this £400,000-a-year job straight after his sacking by the Rugby Football Union, this diminutive dictator has been trading on nothing more than blind faith.
This alone should be grounds for Hamish McLennan, chairman of Rugby Australia, to dismiss him, however seduced he might have been by Jones’ cult of personality. But now it is reported that Jones has been seeking alternative employment with Japan behind the scenes – a story he was furious to be asked about, but did not deny – he should be dispatched on the first flight to Tokyo without delay.
Australian supporters had seen enough, leaving in droves before the end. The spectacle should have sent quite the message to McLennan, more powerful even than the boos that greeted the announcement of Jones’ name at kick-off. The plan was that Jones could raise the Wallabies’ profile, giving them precious exposure through his press conferences. But the only headlines he has brought are of the embarrassing kind, culminating in this truly abject surrender.
You wonder what the younger players unaccustomed to Jones’ machinations are supposed to think. Here was a figure who had promised that they were the future, that he would be orchestrating his rebuild of Australian rugby around them. And yet before they had enjoyed a chance to achieve anything, or even to play a World Cup match, he was applying for a job with another country. Fittingly, they did not perform here as if they wished to play for him.
It said little for his faith in this team that just a week after his arrival in France, Jones was apparently fluttering his eyelashes at Japan to give himself a potential way out. So much for the five-year regeneration. So much for Jones staying at the helm for the British and Irish Lions’ visit in 2025 and a home World Cup. After a series of hapless experiments, and a conspicuous refusal of late to commit beyond this tournament, he has decided that he should entertain an exit strategy.
The mixed messages have become central to the grisly theatre of it all. England fans are wearily familiar with the script by now, where Jones keeps spinning self-serving narratives to shore up his job security. Even as darkness engulfed him at Twickenham, he insisted that the fruition of his labours would only be seen at the World Cup. This time, with Australia, he has had the ready-made excuse of his squad’s youth on which to fall back, telling his doubters that they would to wear some pain before reaching any definitive judgment.
Except few are buying his salesman’s patter any longer. Drew Mitchell, the former wing, lost patience quickly, demanding to know what Jones meant by emptily parroting that he “took full responsibility” for the defeat to Fiji, and why he had failed to offer any cogent rationale for leaving stalwarts Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper at home. There was a high-handedness to the Hooper snub in particular, with the Wallabies looking painfully shorn of experience in his absence.
Frankly, any notion of a Jones masterplan is wishful thinking, with the chaos at fly-half a telling illustration. Here is a man who, having jettisoned Cooper, a veteran of 79 Tests, thought it would be a shrewd ruse to bring 22-year-old Carter Gordon along for the adventure. When that backfired spectacularly, with Gordon culpable in a first loss to Fiji in 69 years, Jones turned instead to Ben Donaldson, a natural full-back who had started just one Test at 10 before this, against Wales last November. The plan unravelled hideously here, summed up when Donaldon kicked a restart out on the full.
Even at this lowest of ebbs, Jones has somehow retained powerful backers. Faced with the report that Jones had been lining up a switch to Japan, Phil Waugh, chairman of Rugby Australia, replied that he took him at his word that it was “b------t.” But taking everything this mischievous character says at face value is seldom the wisest move. His habit is to swear blind that he can unlock any team’s potential. But he has had a savage comeuppance, with Australia recognising, just as England did in the end, that the emperor has no clothes.