According to a story in Sponichi, the Japanese sports newspaper, Jones is poised to return as Jamie Joseph’s successor in the vacant head coach role. Japan also failed to progress to the quarterfinals of this year’s show-piece in France.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported last month how Jones, who is under contract with Rugby Australia until the end of their home World Cup in 2027, had secretly interviewed with the Japan Rugby Football Union by video call before the start of the World Cup, just days before the Wallabies’ final warm-up fixture against the hosts France.
The 63-year-old has denied that an interview even took place and repeatedly poured cold water on reports linking him with the Japan job.
But Sponichi says: “This spring, Masato Tsuchida, president of the Japan RFU, with whom he [Jones] has had a honeymoon relationship since his days at Suntory, contacted him.
“Contract negotiations have been held privately behind the scenes and preparations are under way for his first return since the 2015 World Cup, at which he led [Japan] to a historic three wins.”
Telegraph Sport understands from sources with knowledge of discussions that Jones was due at the JRFU headquarters originally on Sunday November 5 to interview for the role for a second time, but this was postponed due to his involvement with the Barbarians’ fixture against Wales in Cardiff a day earlier. The Australian was coaching the invitational side alongside New Zealander Scott Robertson.
Jones, Rugby Australia and the JRFU all either refused to comment on the Sydney Morning Herald’s initial story, and when approached by Telegraph Sport this week all three maintained that position.
The claims out of Japan come as a further blow to Rugby Australia chairman, Hamish McLennan, who sacked New Zealander Dave Rennie and hired Jones just eight months out from a World Cup. Under Jones’s tutelage, the Wallabies finished third in Pool C, with Wales and Fiji progressing to the quarter-finals.
Telegraph Sport reported last month that Jones had denied to McLennan “on a number of occasions” that he had interviewed with the Japanese, prompting the chairman to back the head coach to see out his tenure, which would incorporate both the 2025 British and Irish Lions tour and a World Cup on home soil two years later.
“My understanding all along is that wherever he is in the world, Japan would take him back in some capacity in a heartbeat so there is a standing offer there to take him,” McLennan told Telegraph Sport. “We have asked him if he interviewed with Japan, and he has categorically denied it on a number of occasions, so we take him at his word.”
In the aftermath of the Sydney Morning Herald’s report, McLennan added that he would be “surprised and disappointed” if the Wallabies head coach departed.
Reports out of Japan also suggested that the JRFU had enlisted the help of a recruitment and consultancy firm to hire their next head coach after the highs of a 2019 quarter-final were followed by an early exit this year.
Jones, whose has a Japanese mother, has had a long association with the country, beginning as an assistant at Tokai University, Suntory Sungoliath and the Japan national team in the mid to late 1990s. The Australian was at the helm on the Brave Blossoms’ most famous day, the 2015 World Cup victory over South Africa, during his three-year stint as head coach. Jones would later return to Suntory as director of rugby, a role he infamously held during his time as England head coach.