Jones ‘on the list’ to replace Cheika for Wallabies
IN a shock development, gun coach Eddie Jones remains in Rugby Australia's crosshairs to replace Michael Cheika as Wallabies boss despite being contracted to England through to 2021.
Cheika has said he will step down as Wallabies coach if he doesn't win the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan and RA will start a formal process to search for his successor this year.
Jones, who coached the Wallabies from 2001-05 and lost the 2003 World Cup final, extended his contract with England through till 2021 this year.
But the 58-year-old Australian has a break clause in his contract, dependent on England's performance at the 2019 World Cup.
It is understood that Jones, the last Australia coach to win the Bledisloe Cup, has a desire to round out a remarkable career with a return to the Wallabies at some stage.
Jones is said to have expressed that interest to at least one member of RA's board, but, failing to gain sufficient traction, decided to move on and extend his lucrative contract with England in January.
RA high performance manager Ben Whitaker is the man tasked with drawing up a post-Cheika succession plan and presenting options to chief executive Raelene Castle and the board this year.
"I can't speak on behalf of the board, but if I'm tasked with pulling together a list of potential candidates, is Eddie Jones on there, yeah he is," Whitaker said.
"Where that goes in terms of the process that we run, well, that will be determined.
"I actually worked here with Eddie back in 2003-05, not that that makes any difference, but you appreciate the skills he's got as a head coach.
"And if he's willing and able, things you'd have to work out, he'd be on the list, probably another dozen would be too."
It is unlikely RA would be able to match Jones' England salary so a return home would rely on tugging on the Aussie heartstrings.
Jones and Cheika are former Randwick teammates and Jones ran rings around his younger rival in a 3-0 whitewash of the Wallabies in Australia in 2016.
Cheika recently spruiked the merits of his assistant coach Stephen Larkham but there are concerns he could be given the role before he's ready.
Larkham's playing and coaching history has been almost entirely limited to the Brumbies and Wallabies and there will be experienced international coaches such as Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland on the market post 2019.
Australia's four Super Rugby coaches are all inexperienced although Rebels mentor Dave Wessels could come into the Wallabies frame if he continues to make a strong impression.
"A lot of times the issue at international level is inexperience," Whitaker said.
"(International experience) may be part of the criteria.
"Clearly Eddie's one who has done that and then obviously been a favourable candidate for roles because of that international experience, but also his success.
"There will be others on that list, even Australians, your Scott Johnsons of the world (Scotland's director of rugby), who have been at that international level.
"If you look at our current mix of Super coaches, I think whilst they're inexperienced at that level, what we've found through all the profiling work we've done is the capability of that group is really exciting."
Jones took over as England coach after their embarrassing 2015 World Cup flop and has engineered a remarkable revival, winning 24 of 26 Tests and cementing them as the world's second ranked side.
He was named 2017 world coach of the year.
Another factor in any potential contract talks is that Jones' England employers have said they won't stand in the way should he want to coach the British and Irish Lions in their 2021 tour of South Africa.
Whitaker and RA are also keeping an open mind regarding Cheika's future.
"We'll be talking to Michael right through into the World Cup and beyond, and he will be a part of that process," Whitaker said.
"Sometimes things change and people change their minds.
"What Michael's really focused on is a, winning and that includes the World Cup.
"And b, leaving a legacy, a real positive legacy that sets this place up, so the next person that comes in can take it beyond where it was.
"I'm confident that'll happen."