Eddie Jones facing scrutiny as Australians at Japanese club he coaches withdraw from England Test

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Eddie Jones coaching - Eddie Jones facing scrutiny as Australians at Japanese club he coaches withdraw from England Test - GETTY IMAGES
Eddie Jones coaching - Eddie Jones facing scrutiny as Australians at Japanese club he coaches withdraw from England Test - GETTY IMAGES

Eddie Jones’ consulting role with Suntory Sungoliath has come under further scrutiny after Samu Kerevi, Australia’s star centre, opted to stay with his Japanese club side rather than tour with the Wallabies and potentially face England at Twickenham.

On Monday it was confirmed that both Kerevi and back-rower Sean McMahon had decided not travel to Europe for the Wallabies’ fixtures against Scotland, England and Wales next month.

Instead, despite World Rugby’s regulation nine decreeing that clubs should make their players available for their country during designated international windows, the pair are to remain in Japan to help Suntory prepare for the 2022 season, which begins in January.

It has been stressed to Telegraph Sport that Jones, whose association with Suntory stretches back over 20 years, had nothing to do with the decision.

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Last year, the Rugby Football Union also defended Jones’ job with Suntory. “Eddie has had a consultancy agreement with Suntory for over 20 years,” said an RFU spokesperson. "We have been aware and comfortable with that since he joined the RFU. He provides consultancy in his holidays and this role is in no way a conflict with his England team priorities.”

Even so, there is an obvious perception of a conflict of interests. As recently as last week, Jones praised the influence that hard-running Kerevi has had on a recent resurgence for the Wallabies, who are on a run of five consecutive Test wins.

Kerevi had not featured for Australia since their loss to England in the 2019 World Cup quarter-final but returned last month for The Rugby Championship as Rugby Australia loosened eligibility rules. The same changes allowed Dave Rennie to select fly-half Quade Cooper, whose availability for the tour is likely to be decided in the coming days following discussions with his Japanese club, the Kintetsu Liners.

“The whole time, the boys have said that they want the support and blessing of the clubs to say they are happy to go,” said Rennie on Monday before revealing that the players in question had been “nervous about how their clubs would respond to them touring”.

Another episode in rugby union’s ongoing conflict between big-spending clubs and the Test game looks more jarring for the fact that Suntory have contributed eight players to Japan’s squad for matches against Ireland, Portugal and Scotland. For that reason, Rennie said, Suntory are keen for Kerevi and McMahon to attend pre-season.

Will Genia, Henry Speight, Samu Kerevi, Tevita Kuridrani, Sean McMahon of the Wallabies run laps during an Australian Wallabies training session at McGillivray Oval on September 4, 2017 in Perth, Australia - GETTY IMAGES
Will Genia, Henry Speight, Samu Kerevi, Tevita Kuridrani, Sean McMahon of the Wallabies run laps during an Australian Wallabies training session at McGillivray Oval on September 4, 2017 in Perth, Australia - GETTY IMAGES

“It’s a bit of pressure on [Suntory] to win [the Japan Rugby League One competition],” he explained. “They’ve got a number of players away with the Japanese national team and they wanted those guys around for preparation and pre-season.”

“We were disappointed, obviously,” Rennie added. “Samu has played five Tests prior to missing the Test against Japan and he’s been excellent on and off the field.

“I know these boys have loved their time in the environment but they’ve made a decision on what their club needs. It wasn’t an easy decision for those guys but it’s what they’ve decided to do.”

Still part of Australia’s squad for next month’s Tests are Will Skelton, Rory Arnold and Tolu Latu, three forwards who are contracted to French clubs and have been included after changes to eligibility criteria.

With backline stocks thin due to injuries to full-backs Reece Hodge and Tom Banks, though, Rennie is exploring the possibility of bringing in Kurtley Beale from Racing 92.

Louis Lynagh has also come on to Australia’s radar again after Jones left the Harlequins wing out of England’s squad for the autumn internationals.

Reports in the Australian press suggested that Lynagh was being considered as an injury call-up if Hodge is ruled out of their Test matches against Scotland, England and Wales.

As long as he remains uncapped, Lynagh, the son of Wallabies legend Michael, remains eligible for selection for three countries – England, Australia and Italy, the country of his birth. The 20-year-old was included in England’s training squad earlier this month but missed the cut for the autumn internationals, even after Anthony Watson suffered an ACL injury.

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