The inside story of his Wallabies return

McLennan, Marinos and Jones discussed a range of issues including the possibility of private equity buying into the game and the health of grassroots sport, something Jones cares about.

Over dinner, the two most important men in Australian rugby were impressed by Jones and his curious and outspoken perspectives on the modern game.

It was obvious that Jones wanted to return home. The carrot of a British and Irish Lions home series in 2025 and a World Cup in Australia in 2027 tempted Jones, a polarizing figure who has always downplayed his ambitions – at least publicly – of a rugby return to the country that was ‘divorced’ would. him in 2005.

Coincidentally, the meeting came just days after a drunk Wallabies fan called Jones a “traitor” during his third test at the SCG.

“This fan’s behavior is totally unacceptable and not desirable in a Wallabies Test if he continues like this,” McLennan said the next day. “We should recognize Eddie’s achievements as a great Australian export. There’s too much Poppy Syndrome in that comment.”

If only fans knew that RA heavyweights were already in touch with Jones to lure him home in 2024.

The origins of the plan can be traced back to the Wallabies’ spring 2021 tour, when McLennan met Jones in London in November. After that, the two stayed in regular contact.

Last year, as Australia embarked on a grueling five-Test tour of Europe, McLennan and Marinos once again found time to meet Jones. Again, very few people knew about this catch-up.

Two months earlier, McLennan had guaranteed Rennie’s future until the World Cup.

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“Dave did a great job,” McLennan said at the time. “Real progress has been made. He’s just as frustrated as everyone else [about recent results].”

Last November, Rennie was in a relaxed mood, preparing to board a charter flight from Saint-Etienne in France to Edinburgh for the first game of the Spring Tournament against Scotland.

At this point, Rennie’s winning percentage was 37.9 percent from 29 tests in charge. He was asked if he wanted to remain Wallabies boss in 2024.

“Yes, sure,” said Rennie. “I enjoy what I do, but I’m also realistic that you will be judged on results. We’ll see how things develop over the next six months.

“We all have skin in the game. You know as a head coach when we lose games you have to step up front and turn it on its head because that’s the way it is.”

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie after Australia's defeat by Italy in Florence.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie after Australia’s defeat by Italy in Florence. Credit:Getty

Ultimately, it was Australia’s loss to Italy in Florence that marked the beginning of the end for Rennie.

RA officials sat in the stands in disbelief that the Wallabies had succumbed to their first loss to Italy since the teams first met in 1983.

To mitigate this, Rennie had rested key players and rookie No. 10 Ben Donaldson nearly awarded a match-winning penalty after going full-time. But it wasn’t Wallabies Art.

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After narrow defeats by France and Ireland, Australia won the final Test against Wales, a result many thought would have saved Rennie’s job. It hadn’t.

And after England sacked Jones on December 7th, the game was on for RA. McLennan had to act quickly.

He picked up the phone and asked Jones if he was interested. From there, the two discussed options confidentially and respectfully.

But rarely are coaches fired and their successor named in the same press release.

While the contracts were being written and pen to paper was being put to paper, Rennie was on the Gold Coast guiding the Wallabies players through what to expect in a World Cup year.

On a Zoom call with reporters just last week, Rennie was asked about reports Jones was being courted by RA. His comments were a revealing insight into the relationship between the Wallabies coach and his chairman.

“I haven’t spoken to Hamish lately, so I can’t really comment on that,” Rennie said.

On a Zoom call Monday morning, Rennie was told he didn’t have a job.

On Monday afternoon, the Wallabies released a video package containing clips of Jones from that night in 2003 when Jonny Wilkinson scored the drop goal that broke Australia’s hearts in the World Cup final.

“Speculation becomes scripture,” says one line of the video. “He is at home”.

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https://www.smh.com.au/sport/rugby-union/secret-meetings-and-a-chicken-dinner-the-inside-story-of-jones-wallabies-return-20230116-p5cctj.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_sport The inside story of his Wallabies return

Ryan Sederquist

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