Eddie Jones has refused to commit to his long-term contract as Wallabies coach, but he admits his job could well be on the line if Australia lose to Wales on Sunday, a result that would in all likelihood mean the proud rugby nation will miss the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in history.
Jones on Friday morning named a Wallabies team with three changes and two further positional shifts to the one beaten 22-15 by Fiji in Saint-Etienne last weekend, the biggest of which sees Ben Donaldson move to fly-half in place of Carter Gordon.
Jones has been unwavering in his defence of Gordon over the past five games, insisting the first-year Test fly-half needed time in the saddle to find his way at international level. But the coach's patience has seemingly run out, with Donaldson entrusted with the role of piloting the Wallabies around the park on Sunday night [Monday morning AEST].
It is somewhat of a retreat -- though not a complete one -- from Jones, who has come in for heavy criticism ever since he announced a 33-man squad that was light on for experience and without household names Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper.
Jones has insisted that Australian rugby needed to look to the future, a move backed by Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan -- who in August told ESPN the 63-year-old coach would lead the Wallabies after the World Cup no matter what transpired in France -- but with the fury growing back in Australia and former players like Drew Mitchell taking dead aim at Jones over his selections, the veteran mentor admits the walls might well be closing in.
"Well, at the end of the World Cup there'll be a review and given the results we've had then maybe Australian rugby doesn't want to keep me," Jones said Friday. "That's the reality of the job I live in. And I understand that."
Jones said he wasn't fearful of being cast aside, but also stopped short of confirming his commitment to the five-year deal he signed earlier this year. Reports that Jones could return to Japan have been circling around the World Cup, while other rumours have suggested that the 63-year-old was highly unlikely to stay with the Wallabies through to the 2027 World Cup in Australia, which will only further infuriate rugby fans Down Under who were disappointed at the omissions of Hooper and Cooper.
There is a belief that Jones could have put the broom through the Wallabies' older brigade from next year, and in doing so beforehand has virtually deemed this World Cup as expendable.
Former Wallabies winger Mitchell is one of those people frustrated by Jones' selections, with the 2015 World Cup finalist slamming the coach's lack of explanation behind those decisions and the double standards that saw the likes of Max Jorgensen taken to France when other injured players, like Hooper, were not.
Jorgensen has since been injured again, putting further heat on Jones' decision, so too some of his training methods that have may have contributed to three injuries in the space of eight days.
Asked whether he had seen Mitchell's comments, or those from Wallabies great David Campese that were equally as damning, Jones said he hadn't heard either man's negative commentary.
"Well, I don't listen to any of that noise," Jones said. "I don't even know what Drew Mitchell said. I've got no idea what he said. I've got no idea what David Campese said. So, if you want to explain it to me, I'm happy to listen to it."
Jones did however acknowledge the wider frustrations of the collective Australian rugby cohort, admitting the 1-6 record he had overseen since his return as coach simply wasn't good enough.
Perhaps I should've had some more sleep.. 🙈— Drew Mitchell (@drew_mitchell) September 20, 2023
Apologies for my swearing.. a tad emotional 😬
Just want to see the boys do well..
All that been said, I still believe in our men this weekend against Wales!!#AllezWallabies https://t.co/SgIERcR56x
"Well sometimes, and coaching's like this and I don't try to make myself out as a saint, but sometimes you've got to take some hard decisions to get the results further down the track," Jones explained. "And I've got no doubt we'll win on Sunday. I've got no doubt we'll win on Sunday, got no doubt. The way the team's prepared. The way they've come together. I've got no doubt we'll win on Sunday.
"But if we don't, then sometimes you've got to do the work that allows you to be successful further down the track. I don't know of any team that you can come in and blow magic over. You've got to go through a process and you've got to find out what's wrong with the team. And then you've got to try to address those problems.
"So, I sit here very comfortably feeling like I'm doing the job I should be doing. Now, I know people are upset about it, and I understand that, and I wouldn't be too [happy] as a fan because the results aren't good enough, but sometimes there's some pain before you get some success."
Asked whether he regretted not selecting a more experienced No. 10 in his touring party, Jones again defended his decision to look to the future.
"No, not at all. As I said I think I'm 100% doing the right thing for Australian rugby. Like I said, I apologise for the results. I can get down on my knees and do the Japanese thing if you want me to. I can't apologise anymore, guys.
"I'm really sorry we haven't had better results but all I know is what we're doing is right for Australian rugby... we're not trying to be a mediocre team, right? If we wanted to be a mediocre team there's other things we could've done.
"We want to be a really good team, and to be a really good team there's some pain and failure involved in being a really good team."
Veteran prop James Slipper, meanwhile, said he could understand where former teammate Mitchell in particular was coming from, noting his- and the fans- passion for the gold jersey.
"I know Drew really well. The one thing about Drew is he cares a lot about the Wallaby jersey," Slipper told reporters on Thursday. "He is genuinely he's very passionate about about the team and he just wants to see us do well and that's probably a bit of frustration coming out in Drew.
"As a player who's still playing I get that. He's not going to be the last player that comes out and says his bit. I've seen it my whole career, going back a long time. So it's a part of the game. The players are invested, the ex-players are invested, the fans are invested and I get it.
"So it's definitely not going to be the last player that voices his opinion. Whether they support us or not, it's a part of the game that we are used to."