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Opinion

A dispassionate look at the Eddie Jones appointment

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Roar Guru
22nd January, 2023
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6298 Reads

After a week of more excess frothing than a bad trainee day at a pils bar, its worth examining if Eddie Jones’ recent record and approach to the game is going to be a rapid fit for the Wallabies when it comes to actually getting out on the grass.

In short, the recently sacked coach of the number five ranked side in the world is joining the sixth ranked side with only five Test matches to be used as preparation before the world cup.

A decision we are told was made unanimously by the Rugby Australia Board without any reference to the players or the assistant coaches, who are pretty senior Australian coaches in their own right.

As part of the media blitz this past week has been the comparison of the excellent Eddie Jones’ record with England of 73% with England while the immediate past coach Dave Rennie languishes with an unsatisfactory 38%.

But as anyone who makes decisions off data series will tell you, the weighting you apply to what happened yesterday far exceeds what happened in the past, so take out the Jones record of 2016-2017 where only 1 test was dropped out of 24 games and the landscape rather drastically changes.

Further, take out the likes of Canada, USA and Tonga from England’s recent games and the Rennie record all of a sudden doesn’t look too far away from a pure numbers perspective.

But the real question is, Is there anything in the way England have played in recent seasons that will be of immediate benefit to this Wallabies outfit?

Let’s have an ice-cold look at the focus areas already noted by Jones and Chairman Hamish McLennan.

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1. Aggression

Hardly been a strong point of the English rugby side of late has it. It is certainly something they have been searching for since getting manhandled in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final but you would struggle to support any argument that they have improved in this area.

That’s not to say they haven’t talked openly about it, I seem to recall coach Jones pointing out the French were about to find about ‘absolute brutality’ before England racked up another one in the loss column. Lots of references to ‘brutal’, none delivered.

Coach Eddie Jones gives a smile during the England Rugby squad captain’s run at Suncorp Stadium on July 08, 2022 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

In fact, the only outcome that the English rugby side have produced by this focus over recent seasons is a discipline and penalty problem not dissimilar to the one the Wallabies had as they tried to bring the Rennie approach at breakdown time to the test arena.

One thing that is worth noting over the past season has been the improvement of the Australian breakdown, in particular their work at the offensive breakdown and we saw against the worlds top two sides on the End of Year Tour that Australia had taken some serious steps forward in solving their discipline issues.

2. Play rugby the Australian way

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Got to confess I am not really sure what this is and I have been watching the Wallabies a long time.

The Cheika Era seemed to refer to it constantly without delivering and one wonders if the excellent outcomes from one or two very good Wallaby sides of some twenty or thirty years ago, it is surely not more recent, have built a burden for those that followed them that will perhaps never be repeated.

Consider for a moment the improvement in international defending and it seems an unlikely dream to chase.

But presuming this is the end goal that the Chairman wants to attain, is there anything in the recent Jones coaching portfolio that gives hope towards this potential outcome.

Again, there has been lots of talk in the British rugby press of chaos rugby, of ignoring the numbers on the players backs and attacking from all parts but precious little has been evident on the park from this current English side.

Indeed, if one looks at the 2020 season England produced a style so tedious that few would have watched with any relish. Since then, tryscoring has remained a problem for them and only the ongoing inclusion of Italy in the Six Nations stops the tries scored column looking like a seriously lonely place.

Australia does produce rugby players who like to run with the ball, always has. But recently the best performances of the side have been when they have taken a more conservative and controlled approach.

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The wins over South Africa with Quade Cooper at the helm were built on low error rates, winning the territorial kicking battle and taking advantage of opportunities built on the back of patient rugby.

The recent narrow losses to both Ireland and France combined an ability to scrap at the gain-line and stay in the fight, with low error rates.

Only five turnovers were conceded against Ireland in a match where Australia had 56% possession, threw 10 offloads, made 176 passes and ran for 355 metres while they lost only 6% of the 112 rucks they generated.

Five for those wondering is an outstandingly low number on those possession stats, and is a super low number as a stand alone compared to any other international game.

That is what control looks like.

Yes, it’s just another loss in the column, yes it’s just another contributor to Rennies’ 38% outcome, but if you watched that game and think there has not been serious progress in this Wallaby sides ability to compete at the very top level then you probably need to take another viewing.

Selection

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Five Tests available before Rugby World Cup kicks off, not a lot of time to experiment and fair to say Coach Jones selection record for the English hasn’t been great.

He constantly ignored form players from the domestic competition and didn’t not have a great record of melding new players into the side.

Last season was a great example, a huge player pool, some 200 players have passed through his international camps and the 2022 side fell back on what worked in the past. Back came the Vunipolas, Jonny May, Jack Nowell, and with a ever hopeful roll of the dice, back in came Manu Tuilagi with no form to speak of.

Jones is going to need to establish a tight working relationship with the Super coaches and quickly. He is going to need information and will occasionally need favours for players getting minutes in positions that are important to him. Its fair to say this is not a position he has been able to foster with the English Premiership coaches.

If Australia have selection issues at 10, and they have, I am not sure the approach Jones took to a similar issue he had with England is going to be of any help. Elevating Marcus Smith but not having the courage to drop an out form Owen Farrell, and then not keeping him out of the way and letting Smith run the show has been a key contributor to the clunky English attack of the last couple of years.

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I am sure the sugar hit of bringing back Australia’s best current international coach to the Wallaby fold will have the desired immediate benefits.

The energy and focus Coach Jones will bring is undoubted, the fringe players all step up, incumbents will work harder top rove themselves and the great aussie nationalism focus will take them along the right track, something a foreign coach can never truly tap into.

The right side of the draw and the chance of knocking out England will provide Eddie Jones with extra motivation should he even need it.

However, it seems to me that the areas where the Wallabies need to improve the most, are areas that Jones has not been able to remedy in his previous role and in fact, over the 2022 end of year series a strong argument could be made that the Wallabies took some pretty big steps to fixing many of these issues with a squad decimated by injury, while England looked firmly stuck in their ways with little tangible progress.

That second string side loss to Italy is something that will haunt Dave Rennie forever, as the focus on returning to Australia was in all the wrong places, especially for those who make decisions a long way from the grass.

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