The Japan Rugby Football Union have refused to comment on rumors of Australia coach Eddie Jones exploring a return to Japan that overshadowed the build-up to the Wallabies' stunning 40-6 defeat to Wales at the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.
"We have a policy that we won't disclose any information about candidates (any name of an individual or selection status) until we finalize the announcement of the new head coach," a JRFU spokesperson told Kyodo News via email just hours before the game in Lyon.
The comment came after Jones denied he had interviewed with the JRFU to take over from current Brave Blossoms head coach Jamie Joseph, who will return to New Zealand after the World Cup.
"I take umbrage to people questioning my commitment to the Australia job," Jones said following Australia's loss which, barring some huge upsets, will see them eliminated from the World Cup pool stage for the first time.
"I am a proud Australian. I hate to see Australian rugby do as poorly as we have been doing, particularly under my reign."
When pushed on whether he had talked to JRFU officials, Jones, who is contracted with Australia until 2027 when the country hosts the next World Cup, responded, "I don't know what you are talking about, mate. I am committed to coaching Australia."
The 63-year-old indicated he would leave the press conference if reporters continued to question him on the matter.
The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday morning reported that Jones, who only took the Wallabies job in January, had held an online interview with the JRFU in late August about a return to the job he held from 2012 to 2015.
That prompted an immediate response from Rugby Australia chief executive Phil Waugh who said, "I take people at their word and Eddie's said there's nothing in it. So, as far as I'm concerned, that's the end of the story."
Following Joseph's announcement earlier this year that he would not seek to extend his contract beyond the World Cup, the JRFU announced in a July 17 press release that it would begin the selection process for the next national coach after the tournament.
The JRFU said the project would be overseen by the JRFU's Head Coach Selection Committee, which had engaged Odgers Berndtson, "a leading executive search firm with a proven track record in international rugby, to run the selection process."
When pressed by Kyodo News as to why Jones had reportedly already been interviewed, given the role of an outside agency, the JRFU reiterated, "We won't disclose the details of the selection process but of course, the project will be overseen by JRFU as we announced in July."
One line of thought is that Jones may simply have been helping the selection process, given his close relationship with JRFU President Masato Tsuchida, a former player and head coach of Suntory Sungoliath, now Tokyo Sungoliath, with whom Jones has had a working relationship since 1997.
Ironically, Jones, in his role as Sungoliath's consulting director of rugby, would have had a big say in the recent signing of Gareth Anscombe, who on Sunday night kicked 23 of Wales' 40 points to add fuel to an already hot fire.