Jones tells RA what they must do to get Wallabies on track
TEN months before the start of the Rugby World Cup, the Wallabies look a million miles away from lifting the William Webb Ellis Cup for a record-equalling third time.
After the euphoria of the 2015 run to the final at Twickenham - the undoubted high point of coach Michael Cheika's four-year reign - the Wallabies head into 2019 with far more questions than answers.
Nine defeats in 13 matches, slumping to sixth in the world rankings, forward set-piece issues and no clear indication who the first-choice hooker, five-eighth and centre pairing will be come the World Cup opener in Sapporo against Fiji, Cheika's positivity masks many problems.
The under-fire coach's preparations for Sunday's 37-18 loss to England - a record sixth straight loss to their old rivals - were hit by the hotel scandal that broke on the eve of the match.
Cheika claimed in London on Thursday that Adam Ashley-Cooper and Kurtley Beale's omissions were down to form and game plan.
When it emerged that it was because of breaking of team rules at the Cardiff hotel they used during their first loss to Wales in a decade, the coach said it was a minor issue and praised the squad's leadership group for bringing the breach to his attention.
It was a minor infraction, but when the team is under pressure and one of the perpetrators was Beale - a previous disciplinary offender - the headlines were predictably hostile.
Rugby Australia (RA) will conduct a review within a month after the Wallabies' year from hell and plenty is riding on it.
They simply can't afford to do nothing, not least because their supporter base is disillusioned and angry.
Cheika is seemingly safe in his job, with the opinion at RA that changing coaches so close to a World Cup would be too unsettling for the players - not to mention very expensive and there are limited other options.
But they must consider if the squad is on course to be a genuine World Cup force after three years when youth and rebuilding have been used to excuse many erratic and error-prone performances.
Cheika has the full backing of RA CEO Raelene Castle who this past week said all aspects of the team would be assessed and refused to give any assurances to the coach's support staff.
"We need to continue to give Cheik and the team the support that they need to make sure that they can put the best possible team on the field," Castle said in London.
"Be that players on the field, be that support staff, be that any extra support that they think they need to make sure the Wallabies can be in the best place they can be as they move into Japan."
Cheika insists the young players that have come into the side over the last two years will be ready for Japan and steadfastly maintains the faith he has in his squad.
He received backing from his old sparring partner, England coach Eddie Jones.
Jones said the core reason for Australia's struggles was not down to Cheika and claimed his former Randwick teammate was hamstrung by the system he was forced to work under.
"You can criticise a coach but if your system is not right then you have to look at the system," Jones said.
"If I was involved in Australian rugby, and I am not, you cannot have two of your biggest provinces bankrupt and still having all the control in the game.
"With Ireland and New Zealand, particularly with Ireland, if you have a centralised system for a small player pool you can be a very good team and consistent.
"Australia doesn't have that and that is what they need and that advice is for free."