How Eddie Jones won over Rugby Australia, inside the meetings that saw him return for World Cup, Dave Rennie

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In the days after masterminding a second series victory in Australia, Eddie Jones sat down with Rugby Australia’s powerbrokers in the Harbour City.

It was in Lavender Bay, Sydney, that Jones met Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan as well as chief executive Andy Marinos and board member Phil Waugh.

Over a couple of hours, they spoke about life and rugby.

Questions were asked.

“Why’s Tate [McDermott] not playing?”

Leadership was a theme while Jones spoke glowingly about the talent on offer in Australian rugby.

At the time, RA was not thinking about 2023.

Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie talks to Tate McDermott of the Wallabies and Nic White of the Wallabies after winning The Rugby Championship match between the Australian Wallabies and the South African Springboks at Adelaide Oval on August 27, 2022 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Dave Rennie’s decision to hardly play Tate McDermott in 2022 raised eyebrows. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

After all, by winning Down Under, Jones looked set to take England through to the 2023 World Cup in France.

No, RA was looking beyond 2023 and the golden decade that was on its doorstep.

In particular, the governing body circled the British and Irish Lions in 2025 and the home World Cup in 2027.

During their productive meeting north of the Harbour Bridge, McLennan’s thoughts were consolidated. It confirmed his gut that Jones was the real deal.

The curious nature of Jones, always looking to improve and engage with people from all walks of life, impressed RA and its ambitious governance team.

Five months later, weeks before the Australian had coached his final Test with England, Jones met up again with RA’s executive team.

Once again, Jones reiterated his interest in returning to Australian rugby.

England's Director of Rugby Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones believes the Wallabies have tremendous talent at their disposal. Photo: Bob Bradford – CameraSport via Getty Images

At that point, Dave Rennie’s hopes for a contract extension had cooled.

Rennie, it is understood, was negotiating a new deal during the July campaign when the Wallabies lost winnable Tests in Brisbane and Sydney to lose the series 2-1.

An inconsistent Rugby Championship only muddied the waters even further, with the Wallabies failing to impress in Sydney at their grand return to the revamped Allianz Stadium.

In the weeks before the Wallabies’ end of season five-Test tour, Rennie pressed once again for a new deal.

According to sources, McLennan resisted. Instead, he insisted RA wait until the end of the Spring Tour to try and establish how the Wallabies were progressing.

Marinos, meanwhile, publicly stated that winning three Tests would be a par.

When the Wallabies lost in Florence to Italy for the first time the mood soured further.

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan

Hamish McLennan’s gut feeling on Eddie Jones was confirmed by a series of meetings with the then-England coach in 2022. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Any chance of a contract extension was gone at that point. It was about survival mode from then on.

At the same time, RA had caught wind that Jones was coming under renewed pressure before England’s final Test of the year against the Springboks despite a rousing comeback against the All Blacks which ended in a remarkable draw.

The belief was the RFU was getting jumpy. Jumpy like never before.

The Wallabies’ stunning 21-point comeback against Wales stemmed the bleeding from their end.

With no real strong replacement option, RA was content to look at the findings of the review and continue to explore the idea of bringing on an independent selector.

But as the drums started to beat after the succession of boos at Twickenham following their loss to South Africa, RA did not want to make a beep.

Wanting to leave their options open, RA was secretly hoping they did not spook the RFU into insisting Jones’ exit clause include a non-compete measure.

Much to their surprise, Jones was shown the door and the Australian was free to join whomever he wanted, whenever he wanted.

It left RA and particularly Jones with much to ponder over the New Year’s shutdown period.

Noah Lolesio of Australia consoles his teammate Ben Donaldson at the end of the Autumn International match between Italy and Australia at Stadio Artemio Franchi on November 12, 2022 in Florence, Italy. (Photo by Timothy Rogers/Getty Images)

The Wallabies’ shock loss to Italy at the Stadio Artemio Franchi on November 12, 2022 in Florence soured the mood between Rugby Australia and Dave Rennie. Photo: Timothy Rogers/Getty Images

A number of players and RA staff believed it was a matter of time before Jones walked through the doors at Moore Park.

All the while, the word coming out of the governing body was that the situation remained “fluid”.

It’s understood some within RA believed the status quo should remain for 2023, with Jones to return to lead the charge ahead of the Lions series.

But with much at stake, including momentum into a crucial four-year period and other objectives like getting a private equity deal across the line, the RA board jumped in line and the decision was made to go all in on Jones for 2023 and target a third World Cup.

On Monday morning, before the sun rose in Sydney, less than 24 hours after McLennan had signed off on Jones’ homecoming, Rennie was called in for an urgent meeting.

He was sacked shortly after by Marinos, who was in South Africa, and placed on gardening leave. With that, RA ensured that they would not repeat the RFU’s mistake by failing to put in a non-compete clause.

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