LYON, France -- Injured Wallabies captain Will Skelton has backed Eddie Jones' long-term vision for Australian rugby, despite Sunday night's embarrassing Rugby World Cup loss to Wales and an allegation that the 63-year-old coach has been eyeing up a shock switch to Japan.
Australia were still coming to terms with the 40-6 hammering - which was a record loss to Wales and a record World Cup defeat -- in Lyon on Monday morning, after one of the most dramatic days in the code's history Down Under.
Skelton was left to front the media despite his absence from the matchday 23 that was blown off Groupama Stadium by Warren Gatland's team, with the injured skipped doubling down on comments from several of his teammates that a Sydney Morning Herald report that alleged Jones had taken an interview for the role of Japan coach had played no part in Australia's pathetic showing on Sunday night.
"No, it wasn't addressed and no, I don't think it was a distraction," Skelton said of the report. "That's something that has been knocked on the head there. Eddie has denied it with us, so we have full trust in him. I don't think it was a distraction leading into the game."
Asked whether he had asked Jones directly about the report, Skelton added: "Nah, I don't have to. I've heard the press conference last night and I trust him in what he says. He's a man of his word and he has the full support of the group."
Quizzed about the report in the post-match press conference, Jones himself said that he was "committed to coaching Australia", but the coach would not be drawn on whether that was for 2024 or beyond.
He the later hit out at the line of questioning and threatened to walk out of the press conference altogether unless the focus returned to where things had gone wrong against Wales.
Jones in January signed a five-year deal that is to take him through to Rugby World Cup 2027 in Australia, but such is the ignominy of a likely maiden pool stage exit at the tournament in France, and the persistent Japan rumours, that it would not be a surprise to see yet another Wallabies coaching change.
Jones continues to defend his decision to look to the future and work backwards from 2027, a plan endorsed by Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan, the man largely responsible for the decision to sack Dave Rennie and repatriate Jones to the job he first held from 2001 to 2005.
But criticism of the 63-year-old's decision to leave experienced players like former skipper Michael Hooper, and veteran fly-halves Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley behind, has come thick and fast, with former Wallabies Drew Mitchell and David Campese among those to voice their disapproval, while dual World Cup winner and former All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams also took aim at Jones over the move.
"Let's talk on tonight, first and foremost. That second half team, they look like a team that just lost belief, they didn't believe in themselves. And that starts from the head in the sheds, the guy that's telling them to get up," Williams said on Stan Sport.
"He came out here and they didn't perform at all. It was really, really disappointing.
"I feel for these boys, I feel for the fans. I'm going to keep a real one here, look, they were up against it from the start.
"Questions need to be asked from selections to the mind games that Eddie's been playing with these kids, these guys, these young men. But it was evident. There's a guy in the studios back home (Hooper) that should be here right now."
Despite the team's embarrassing new low, Skelton said he supported Jones' approach and that the two-time World Cup runner-up took on a different persona behind closed doors to the one that was often engaging in slanging matches with the media.
"Yeah, I think his long-term vision and what he wants Australian rugby to be back to, I think that's a positive, the way he is around the group," Skelton said. "I think [what] you see in the media, he has his persona around them. But when you see him one to one in front of the team, how he speaks, how he interacts, the boys follow him. And I do as well.
"I think he's a fantastic coach with a massive rugby IQ that we're learning every day when we're working with him. It's one of those things that he simplifies the game of rugby for us. And unfortunately we couldn't perform up to those standards on the weekend and the weeks gone by, to really show that coaching that's been happening in the last few months.
"And that's on the players and that's on us owning that and putting our hands up as well, I think."
Rugby Australia will undertake a review of the Wallabies' performance in France once the tournament has concluded, and one area of focus is likely to be Jones' training methods after Skelton and powerhouse prop Taniela Tupou were both injured in the lead-up to last week's loss to Fiji.
There have been suggestions that Australia had been training too hard, particularly amid the unseasonably warm conditions that greeted the tournament's opening weeks, so much so that the players should have had their workloads better managed.
But Skelton put his calf injury down to a "freak accident", saying the medical team had been trying to work out why he went down when he did.
"Well I think I've got a grade one or a high grade one calf. We've been training pretty hard the last few months, as you said. I don't think it was anything in particular, we're trying to pick our brain, if there was anything I did on the day or leading into it," Skelton said.
"But if you think about it, we literally had the whole day off. So it was an eight day turnaround. I don't think anything in training load was it. Maybe a soft pitch or I wore the wrong boots. That could have been the cause.
"But in terms of training load and high minutes, man, I don't think it's linked. It was a freak thing, wrong place, wrong time, I think."