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Eddie Jones: Where has Australia return gone wrong and what's behind woeful Rugby World Cup performance?

Where it's gone so wrong for Eddie Jones in his Australia return, as one of rugby's most controversial figures appears on verge of exit; inability to pick up victories and dreadful media relationship; banishing of experienced players; secret Japan job interview?; unfortunate injury luck?

Eddie Jones

It was meant to be the return of the prodigal son, who would kick-start Australian rugby to unexpected World Cup glory. But Eddie Jones' second Wallabies spell has instead turned into a fiasco.

Some 18 years after he last departed the Australia post, Jones - a coach with a superb World Cup record - was back in his homeland a month after being given the sack by England.

A terrible run of form, dreadful media relationship, shunning of experienced players, apparent secret Japan job interview, unfortunate luck with some injuries and history-making World Cup failure have followed in the eight months - or four months of Tests - since.

Below, we look at where it's gone so wrong for one of rugby's biggest and most controversial characters...

An inability to pick up victories and dreadful media relationship

Having began his second Wallabies post officially in January 2023, Jones wouldn't oversee his first game until July's Rugby Championship, due to the nature of the southern hemisphere rugby season. Once he got going, though, surely even his most ardent critic could not have foreseen the run of results to follow.

Jones had come in to replace former Glasgow Warriors boss Dave Rennie, and though Australia had never been consistent under the Kiwi, they had picked up victories against South Africa, Argentina, Wales, England and Scotland - as well as a Test against the All Blacks they definitely should have won - in the last five months of his employment.

Jones' opening game saw the Wallabies destroyed 43-12 by South Africa in Pretoria, and followed that up with a 34-31 home defeat by Argentina in Sydney - only the third occasion such a result has occurred in 44 years of the fixture.

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Highlights of the Rugby Championship clash between South Africa and Australia in Pretoria

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Highlights of the Rugby Championship clash between Australia and Argentina

Australia's third and final Rugby Championship game in the condensed 2023 format then saw them battered 38-7 by New Zealand on home soil in Melbourne.

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Highlights of the Rugby Championship clash between Australia and New Zealand at the MCG in Melbourne

Perhaps their best performance under Jones came in his fourth game, when only an 80th-minute Richie Mo'unga penalty saw New Zealand to a 23-20 win in Dunedin - a result which kept Australia's losing run going, and would have done a wealth of damage to spirit.

Two weeks from the kick off of the Rugby World Cup in France, they were then well beaten 41-17 by France in Paris, driving further negativity and seeing Jones' second tenure begin with an appalling 0-5 record.

Australia's one victory under him so far came when they beat Georgia 35-15 in their World Cup opener, in an unconvincing performance against a Tier 2 side, while a stunning first defeat to Fiji in 69 years followed in Saint-Etienne.

Eddie Jones
Image: Jones' hiring was seen by those within Rugby Australia as something of a coup, which could lead to to short-term success

Knowing they then had to beat Wales to realistically stand a chance of progression to the World Cup quarters, the Wallabies put in their worst RWC display in history over the weekend as they were trounced 40-6 by Wales in Lyon - a result which means they are almost certain to exit at the pool stage for the first time ever.

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Highlights from Sunday's Rugby World Cup action as Wales hammered Australia

All the while, Jones' relationship and battle with Australian media has gone from uncomfortable to messy, to an unhealthy circus, representing something pretty much untenable.

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Jones bizarrely hit out at journalists at a pre-tournament press conference in Australia

The banishing of experienced players

A stat alluded to by victorious Wales head coach Warren Gatland after Sunday's match was the sheer difference in Test caps between the sides in Lyon.

Wales named a starting XV containing 855 Test caps, and a wider squad of 23 containing 1025 Test caps. By stark contrast, Australia's starting XV contained just 455 Test caps - 132 of which belonged to one player in prop James Slipper - and their 23-player squad had 588 Test caps.

It's a startling fact, but also one which Jones himself has heavily contributed to.

Australia's head coach Eddie Jones during their Rugby World Cup match against Georgia at the Stade de France
Image: Jones chose to omit a series of experienced players, focussing on a young, inexperienced squad

The 63-year-old left out some of Australia's most experienced and talented performers ahead of the World Cup, whether as a result of potential personality clashes or to make a statement as the main man in charge.

The two most high profile omissions were former captain and legend of Wallabies rugby Michael Hooper (125 Test caps), and mercurial fly-half Quade Cooper (79 Test caps). In retrospect, the leadership and quality the two players would have added to the Australia squad mark their axing as big mistakes.

Michael Hooper
Image: Michael Hooper, a magnificent servant to Australian rugby, was surprisingly and controversially cut by Jones

Utility back Reece Hodge, outside-back Tom Wright and back-row forwards Jed Holloway and Pete Samu were also left off the Australia plane, as Jones made a conscious decision to clear decks in favour of youth.

Of the players who travelled to France, 16 were aged under-25, and some 25 of the 33-player squad appeared at a World Cup for the very first time.

Quade Cooper
Image: Quade Cooper was also cut from Jones' final squad, despite the lack of another experienced out-half in the group

The squad's average age of 25 years and 10 months is the youngest at the tournament, and the squad has visibly lacked belief.

The fact Jones has, ridiculously, named six different captains in his seven Tests in charge so far adds to the argument it has been a squad and management utterly without clarity or direction.

Secret Japan job interview on eve of World Cup?

And what about this to throw into the mix? Last week, in the lead up to the crunch clash vs Wales, the Sydney Morning Herald produced an explosive exclusive that Jones had undertaken a Zoom interview to become the next Japan head coach after the World Cup, days before the start of Australia's campaign.

Neither the Japan Rugby Union nor their Australian counterparts have denied the story, and seemingly all within rugby have accepted as an open secret that talks did in fact take place.

The controversy for this - notwithstanding the fact it was on the cusp of the sport's major tournament beginning - is that Jones signed a five-year contract with Rugby Australia when he joined in January, to cover this World Cup, the 2025 Lions Tour and the 2027 World Cup in Australia. Why, then, is he making potential plans to depart already?

It is almost certainly this move, more than any, that led to a chorus of loud boos from Wallabies supporters every time Jones was shown on the big screens at Parc Olympique Lyonnais. They've clearly read his actions as a non-commitment, and want him out.

Australia head coach Eddie Jones speaks during a post-match press conference following the Rugby World Cup 2023
Image: Reports last week claim Jones undertook a job interview to become Japan head coach days before Australia's RWC campaign

The fact Jones has placed Australia in a position of a rebuild, with so many young players, would be a further blow to the union should he just up and leave.

"I know Eddie has come out and made his comments around it, and I take people for their word and Eddie's said there's nothing in it, and so we move forward," Rugby Australia chief executive Phil Waugh said this weekend.

"It's surprising but, as I said, you take people for their word and you trust they're telling you the truth."

Australia's head coach Eddie Jones waits for the start of the Rugby World Cup Pool C match between Australia and Fiji at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard in Saint-Etienne, France, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)
Image: Jones seems to have interviewed to re-join Japan despite having signed a five-year Australia contract in January

Current Wallabies assistant coach Jason Ryles added: "I see his vision beyond the World Cup and it's one of those things where he hasn't said anything to us, obviously.

"Basically, watch this space. 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."

Reading between the lines, it seems Jones may well be back with the Brave Blossoms come November...

Unfortunate luck with injuries?

If there is one possible defence Jones could point to, it would perhaps be some of the untimely injuries his squad has picked up in and around this World Cup.

Tighthead prop Allan Alaalatoa, who has 66 Test Wallabies caps, was named one of Jones' captains before the tournament, but suffered a ruptured Achilles just prior.

Second row Will Skelton, one of the premier forwards in the world club game with La Rochelle as a double European champion over the last two seasons, missed the pool games against Fiji and Wales due to a calf injury picked up in training, after being named as Wallabies skipper.

A dejected Will Skelton following Australia's last-minute defeat to New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup in Dunedin
Image: The injury to second row and skipper Will Skelton did come as a big blow to Jones' potential plans

And finally, Taniela Tupou had marked himself out as one of the most exciting, powerful and dynamic props in the sport, but a hamstring injury saw him fail to take to the pitch vs Fiji and Wales also.

While the absences of Skelton and Tupou in particular were big blows, every side at the World Cup deals with injuries, and the fact Australia avoided the tougher side of the draw containing the world's top four sides in Ireland, South Africa, France and New Zealand, means there is ultimately no real excuse for their performances.

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