He might not dare ask about their role in Eddie Jones’ resignation, but Phil Waugh insists Rugby Australia has a “good relationship” with the Japan Rugby Football Union and says the two nations will meet over the next 24 months in what shapes as a mouthwatering match with plenty of spice.
Six weeks after resigning from Rugby Australia, reports out of Japan over the week revealed Jones had edged out Frans Ludeke and would return to the Brave Blossoms head coaching role. An announcement is expected on Wednesday following a JFRU board meeting.
Jones’ return comes after he denied on more than a dozen occasions that he interviewed for the role with the JFRU on the eve of the 2023 tournament.
All along, Waugh refused to ask the JFRU is they had spoken to Jones, who oversaw the Wallabies’ World Cup disaster less than 12 months after returning to the role following Dave Rennie’s brutal sacking, about the coach taking over from Jamie Joseph.
Waugh said he took Jones’ word that there was nothing to the story.
Asked what his reaction was to Jones’ return to the JFRU, Waugh acknowledged the move was yet to be confirmed but said RA was moving forward.
“Eddie finished with Rugby Australia on the 25th November,” said Waugh, who was appointed RA chief executive midway through the year.
“We’re moving forward with hopefully announcing the new head coach of the Wallaroos this week, full-time, new director of high-performance and then in the market for a new head coach of the Wallabies.
“I made my comments at the World Cup. I still stand by those comments and we’re moving forward. There’s not a lot to do comment on that.”
Probed on whether he thought Jones was telling the truth and whether he viewed the Australian’s actions as an act of betrayal, Waugh said he wanted the Wallabies and the game at large to be one built on integrity.
“As I said back at the time, I took Eddie on his word,” Waugh said.
“We want to be a game of integrity and a team of integrity, and we took Eddie on his word.”
Should Jones indeed be unveiled over the coming days, it would come months after RA and the JFRU signed a “landmark” Memorandum of Understanding until the end of 2029.
The MOU would commit to “building a stronger relationship between the two Unions, developing national teams, competitions, players, staff, and the sport of Rugby itself in each nation.”
Despite Jones’ expected defection to Japan, Waugh said he wouldn’t address the coach’s move with his ally and added that RA looked forward to the Wallabies meeting the Brave Blossoms in the coming years.
“No, we’ve got a good relationship with all national unions,” Waugh said.
“We’ll play a lot of Test matches against Japan and we look forward to continuing that strong partnership.
“I’m not going to buy into speculation of what may have occurred. We’re looking forward and looking forward to putting all those new appointments in place and building a really strong culture for the Wallabies going forward.”
Waugh indicated Australia A would play Japan next year, with a Test between the two nations to follow in 2025.
“Maybe Australia A,” he said.
“I’m not sure in the Test scheduling whether there’ll be the opportunity to play Japan in a Test match. But, certainly, looking forward to 2025 there’ll be a lot of internationals between the Wallabies and Japan and we look forward to those contests as we do every Test match.”
Waugh was speaking alongside his New Zealand Rugby counterpart Mark Robinson and Super Rugby Pacific interim Chair Kevin Molloy following meetings in Auckland on Monday aimed at addressing the flagging interest in the domestic competition.
With the competition a shell of its former self following years of tinkering and a player drain to cashed-up competitions in the northern hemisphere, a Super Rugby Commission has recently been launched to look at ways to help give the game a “level of focus it hasn’t before”.
“This gives it a different agenda. We’re now looking at Super Rugby in a fans lens and where we’re going to take the game and what it might look like in 2030 and 2035 so we can reignite the passion,” Molloy said.