Tokyo: Natto, or fermented soybeans, is the Japanese version of Vegemite in that people generally either love it or hate it. Given recent events, these two foods serve as a good way to gauge how people currently feel about Eddie Jones, expected to be confirmed as the new head coach of the Brave Blossoms on Wednesday evening following a board meeting of the Japan Rugby Football Union. Jones has always been an enigma — a man and coach that you either get along with or don’t. As it stands, he continues to be polarizing in England, Australia, and Japan, where opinions remain divided on whether he is a homecoming hero or a has-been. Is the Jones saga a straightforward story of lies and betrayal, as many have portrayed? And why is he returning to a job he held from 2012-15? Back in December 2022, Jones stated during an interview in Tokyo that he had loved his time in Japan and would be interested in returning if Japan’s interest was reciprocated. However, it seemed that there was no interest from Japan, and Jones ended up taking a job with the Wallabies. “Like everything in life, there is a start and an end, and I want to close that cycle,” Jones said. “I started professional coaching in Japan and Australia, and probably one of those two places would be a good place to finish.” But as we have since found out, Australia is not where he will finish his career, despite multiple comments that he was committed to the cause and wanted to see out his five-year contract.
From a purely Japanese perspective, is Jones’ return a positive or negative development for the Brave Blossoms and rugby in general in Japan? No one has come out of this looking good. The Japan Rugby Football Union allegedly paid for a headhunter when a “private” deal was already in place between JRFU president Masato Tsuchida and Jones. Critics argue that Jones’ appointment stinks of nepotism and that it seems like Tsuchida is bringing back his long-time friend in a secret deal to relive the glory days of 2015. However, Jones spent a great deal of time observing high school and university rugby and advocating for improvements to the game in Japan, such as fast-tracking young players and taking the men’s sevens program seriously.
Jones also understands the culture in Japan and how to get the best out of his players. Some players have expressed confidence in his ability to lead Japanese rugby, but there are also many who believe he belongs to a “bygone era” and question his potential to bring success to Japan given his recent poor performance with Australia. Regardless of the controversy surrounding his appointment, Ludeke can only wonder why he bothered applying, given everything that has transpired. If Jones’ appointment proceeds as planned, there will be lingering doubts about whether he will see out his contract if the Brave Blossoms continue to struggle with poor results.