Rugby Australia reportedly held secret talks with Eddie Jones 14 months before $4.5m Wallabies deal

Rugby Australia had reportedly been in secret talks with Eddie Jones 14 months before his appointment as Wallabies coach in a bombshell $4.5 million deal.

On Monday morning, Dave Rennie was sacked as Wallabies coach following an underwhelming three-year stint as national mentor — his win percentage of 38.24 was the lowest of any Wallabies coach with more than 30 Tests.

Jones was unveiled as Rennie’s replacement, set to lead the Wallabies through to the 2027 World Cup on home soil. He officially starts the new role on January 29.

The 62-year-old, who was stood down as England coach seven weeks ago, has eight months to prepare Australia for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, with the Wallabies’ first group stage match against Georgia scheduled for September 9.

According to The Telegraph, RA had courted Jones in a series of secret meetings dating back to the Wallabies spring tour of November 2021, when chairman Hamish McLennan and chief executive Andy Marinos met with the England coach at London restaurant .

Jones was firmly focused on leading the Red Roses towards World Cup glory, contracted with the Rugby Football Union until the end of 2023.

Last year, following England’s 2-1 series victory over the Wallabies, Jones was invited to McLennan’s home in the lower north shore for dinner, joined by Marinos and board member Phil Waugh. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, McLennan’s wife cooked Portuguese chicken with salad.

The secret meeting occurred just days after a Wallabies fan branded Jones a “traitor” during the third Test at the SCG, which England won 21–17.

The quartet discussed Jones’ plans for 2024 and beyond. Rennie was still eyeing a contract extension, but RA were manifesting plans to sign Jones once his contract expired at the end of 2023.

Any chance of Rennie securing a contract extension vanished after the Wallabies suffered an agonising one-point loss to Italy in November, Australia’s first loss to the European nation since 1983. It was the beginning of the end for Rennie.

But everything changed on December 6, when after seven years in charge, Jones was unceremoniously sacked as England coach, replaced by Steve Borthwick.

McLennan immediately called Jones, flying to London and orchestrating a new deal at a cafe just outside London, The Daily Telegraph reported.

“It’s all pretty high-level and it’s about really getting a sense of where his head is at given the drama of last week,” McLennan said of discussions with Jones at the time.

“You’d be crazy not to think how we could use that brain of his but I know Eddie has a lot of offers out there.”

Employees are entitled to one week’s notice per year served under UK employment law, meaning that Jones was free to take the reins of the Wallabies seven weeks after his departure from the RFU.

According to The Telegraph, RA was surprised the RFU had not insisted on a non-compete clause in Jones’ severance package, allowing the Australian to sign for one of England’s biggest rivals and taking his intellectual property with him.

Last week, Rennie ruled out a coaching partnership with Jones ahead of the World Cup in France. The 59-year-old’s refusal to work with Jones sealed his fate.

“I’m not an assistant coach,” Rennie declared during a Wallabies camp in the Gold Coast, where he went over game plans and strategy with players.

“There’s a fair bit of speculation about a lot of things, but my focus is on this group and the World Cup.

“We’ve had no discussions around that. There’s no plan to make alterations to the coaching group at this stage.

“My assumption is we’re going to push on. What happens beyond 2023 is a different matter.”

Jones put pen to paper on Saturday evening, signing with RA 22 years after he was first appointed to the role in 2001. Rennie was sacked on Monday morning, informed of RA’s decision by Marinos via Zoom.

“Eddie and I believe we can win the World Cup this year. That’s a lot to do but we really believe we have got a fair shake,” McLennan told AFP.

“I think it is a whole-of-game reset that Eddie will lead.

“I think in life quite often you mature with age and I think he’s a better coach than 20 years ago.

“He performs well at World Cups — that is really critical for us. And then we have the home World Cup in 27.

“Eddie is very enthused by the opportunity and as you would know, Eddie is a worker, and so he will make it all work.”

Australia and England will potentially meet at the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, where Jones’ wealth of knowledge of his opponents could prove advantageous.