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Wednesday Dec 13, 2023

Done and dusted - Eddie Jones is Japan's next head coach

Eddie Jones, despite denying links with the Japan head coaching role just ninety days ago, has been officially appointed as the next head coach of the national team per the Japanese Rugby Union’s official X account. The decision came after Jones impressed during his second interview for the position in Tokyo last Thursday. A selection panel promptly endorsed him as the preferred candidate, and his candidacy was subsequently approved at a Japan Rugby Football Union board meeting held on Wednesday night. Jones is slated to address the media at a press conference in Tokyo on Thursday, marking the beginning of his second tenure with the Brave Blossoms.

Jones previously led the Japanese national team for a three-year stint starting in 2012, during which he orchestrated their most famous triumph—a stunning 34-32 World Cup victory over South Africa in England. Despite his popularity in Japan, there were lingering doubts about whether Jones was the ideal fit for the coaching role. Sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the confidential nature of the discussions, revealed that some members of the JRFU board had reservations about the appointment.

However, Jones emerged as a strong candidate, fueled in part by his close relationship with JRFU president Masato Tsuchida, whom he had known since his assistant coaching days at Suntory in 1997 when Tsuchida was the coach. Speculation arose in Japanese media suggesting that Jones’ appointment was a formality, with rumours of a “private deal” between him and Tsuchida having been arranged some time ago.

It will now be interesting to follow what Jones’s primary competition for the role Frans Ludeke will do next. Currently, the former Vodacom Bulls head coach is in charge of the Kubota Spears in the Japanese League One competition but has clearly shown an appetite to coach at the international level.

Jones’s appointment comes 45 days after he resigned as the coach of Australia following the Wallabies’ disappointing World Cup campaign. Despite having taken over just nine months prior and being contracted until the 2027 World Cup, Jones faced criticism for Australia’s lacklustre performance. This revelation followed a secret interview with JRFU officials on August 25, a mere two days before a Wallabies warm-up match against France in Paris. Australian players and administrators were oblivious to Jones’ exploration of coaching opportunities beyond the tournament.

Despite strenuous denials by Jones, including private reassurances to Rugby Australia chief executive Phil Waugh, it became evident that the 63-year-old had his sights set on a return to coaching the Brave Blossoms. Jones, who permanently moved to Japan last month, expressed his interest in coaching Japan in an interview with Kyodo News on November 7, stating definitively, “If they [Japan] came to me and said, ‘Are you interested in coaching them?’, I’d definitely be interested.”

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Although Jones faced challenges and criticism during his recent coaching stints, the JRFU remains convinced that he is the best person to lead the Brave Blossoms to the 2027 World Cup, effectively securing Australia’s former head coach despite the memorandum of understanding signed between the two countries in July. Jones’ return to Japan promises to be a captivating chapter in the nation’s rugby journey.

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