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'Unbearable to watch': Superstar's struggles sum up woes - but Eddie just 10 percent away from a breakthrough

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18th July, 2023
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The rollercoaster that is being a Wallabies supporter continues after a loss to Argentina in Sydney on Saturday night. It was another quick start, followed by a slow middle and fast finish but despite recording a loss there was improvement across the board.

Digging a little deeper into the performance it isn’t hard to see where the extra 10 per cent is needed to catapult the Wallabies into the Rugby World Cup semi-finals, after that it’s anyone’s guess.

“We’re a team that needs to change, we know that, and that’s the reason I’m here in the job” a cornered Eddie Jones said in the post-match press conference.

“It would have been easy if I come in, pared everything back and played a really simple game, but that’s not going to win us a World Cup.”

These two quotes paired with Jones’ dismissal of his media manager trying to shut down the post-match presser says more about where the Wallabies are at and where Jones knows he can get them in the next six weeks than any result could.

There’s two points which must be taken out of the games so far, the first; Jones is having to coach players basics which they should’ve already been perfected by the time they reach Wallaby level. The second; Jones is right, a simple gameplan will not win the Wallabies the World Cup nor will it help Australian rugby to evolve into the beast it could be.

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Jones is fighting a battle on two fronts, he’s lifting Australian rugby from the top-down out of its 15 year rut, as opposed from the bottom up like a Ireland, and he’s also trying to re-capture the hearts and minds of fans.

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To be able to share in Eddie’s vision we must be able to quantify this growth to appreciate how the Wallabies truly performed.

The Wallabies carried 79 times for 440m, Argentina carried 151 times for 358m. That’s 5.6m per carry for the Wallabies, which is more than double Los Pumas’ 2.4m per carry.

Both teams beat 19 defenders and the Wallabies won the clean breaks by 7-4.

In defence the Wallabies were great, tackling at 91 per cent by making 200 tackles and missing 19. Argentina missed 19 tackles and only made 80 (76 per cent). In a low possession strategy, tackle percentage is what should be focused on, and the numbers are impressive.

But the Wallabies are still missing 10 per cent around the park and it starts at the breakdown; 15 turnovers conceded, six rucks lost and only two turnovers won compared to Argentina’s eight.

 (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

If you’re setting a finite number of rucks, you must be accurate and once again the Wallabies were not. The stats show you the Wallabies coughed up the ball a couple dozen times. Harkening back to the problem of Aussie players being under-baked coming into the camp.

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It is as simple as being a proximal support player, not pushing or calling for the offload, and/or prioritising clearing out the ruck. A clean-out is as much about decision making as it is about technique.

No one example explains this better than when Allan Alaalatoa counter-rucked near his own 30m line and won the ball in the 14th minute. AAA could have stayed on his feet longer, but James Slipper and Fraser McReight were just ball watching. It was a choice not to act quicker.

“Our decision-making around the ball was poor,” Jones said in the post- match press conference.

It was a point Jones also laboured in post-match commentary with Stan. One example of where he thinks such nous could’ve been better applied is in the 64th minute when Marika Koroibete made 20m from a kick return.

Almost getting to halfway he popped the ball off the deck to Nic White who then put McReight into space. All the hard work was done, a 40m gain had been made yet the last pass was pushed, and Tom Wright knocked it on.

Jones was seen on the big screen smashing his radio into the desk, McReight needed to tuck and set up a ruck, Wright needed to tell him; ‘take contact and I’ll clear.’ White was hot on the pair’s heels to distribute; the Argentinian defensive line was in disarray and the Wallabies were advancing.

In a gameplan where possession is so valuable and must be used purposefully, mistakes like a pushed pass cannot transpire.

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It wasn’t only younger players making poor decisions, it was also more experienced players like Quade Cooper and Slipper made some bad ones.

Slipper’s decision to take the shot at goal in the 11th minute after the high shot on Mark Nawaqanitawase 30m out from the Pumas’ try-line was wrong. The score was 7-0 to Australia and the lineout was firing.

Cooper is still at 75 per cent of mind and body and it cost the Wallabies dearly on the weekend.

Cooper failing to go the 10m from the restart after Argentinian captain Julian Montoya scored in the 46th minute was unbearable to watch. Against South Africa he put a line drop-out on the full.

Cooper generally played well but the short kick-off paired with his high-shot on Pablo Matera (Kerevi also put a late shot on Carreras without the ball) which lead to the Pumas scoring in the 79th minute are costly errors.

He also kicked four times all of which were long clearance kicks. When you have a guy like Nawaqanitawase on one wing and a bullet like Koroibete on the other facing a tiny winger in Mateo Carreras at 172cm the maths suggests you make that a contestable kick every-time.

On Kerevi, when Gordon made his 60m break down the left flank in the 30th minute, Kerevi was nowhere to be seen, Gordon is quick, but it just proves Kerevi is not 100 per cent yet.

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The penalty count on Saturday was 14 against the Wallabies but a staggering five penalties can be laid at the feet of experienced campaigners who exhibited poor judgement.

AAA was done for a ‘holding a player back’ in the 28th minute, Rob Valetini was pinged for a push off the ball in the 64th minute, Richie Arnold played the ball on the ground and received a yellow card in the 39th minute and Will Skelton pushed too early in the lineout in the 42nd minute as well as Cooper’s high-shot.

The takeaway here is players are trying too hard to impact the result and not trusting the system.

This lack of trust may be because it is foreign to the squad, but they must get on board because the plan is providing a good foundation, the 10 per cent gap just needs to be closed by the players themselves.

Jones will be pleased about what he found out about his squad over the weekend. Nawaqanitawase claimed the 14 jersey, AAA and Slipper showed they are up to the task, and the Arnold-Skelton axis finally gave the maul and scrum the grunt it’s lacked in years gone by.

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Jones equally found out he still needs to find 10 per cent or so of his matchday 23 for Paris.

Mercurial Tom Wright was once again an enigma, a solid night in defence with a try saving tackle in the 43rd minute paired with brain fades in attack. Wright kicked once in general play in the 60th minute and it was the exact same kick, in the exact same spot as he kicked in the Springboks game last week and against the Chiefs in June in a semi-final.

It’s a nothing kick that’s become a habit, and it cost his side possession and territory. He is just not learning quick enough, and it has put the 15 jersey on the market; Andrew Kellaway is in the front seat.

Finally, the blow of losing Len Ikitau for 6-8 weeks due to a fractured scapula is huge. The rugby public are split on whether it should be barnstorming Izaia Perese or the fleet footed Lalakai Foketi who should don No.13. Jordan Petaia has been floated by pundits having played against the All Blacks before at outside centre.

However, there is no one better than 24 Test cap Hunter Paisami. Defensively he is elite compared to the others and he is a genuine kicking option, plus he has a relationship with Kerevi.

“He can play 12 or 13 and has the potential to be a really valuable centre in the years ahead,” said Jones when the young Queensland Reds player re-signed with RA and the Reds through to 2024 in May.

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Paisami is recovering from an MCL injury and should be on track to play the second Bledisloe if selected.

The 10 per cent may seem vast but the hard work has already been done. It’s the little habits, the few desperations, whether it is a jersey pull here or not prioritising a clean-out there, that are costing this team dearly.

They are growing, improving, and learning but it is the players themselves who must wear the loss at Commbank Stadium. Jones’ gameplan put them in the right end of the field and produced the opportunities for them to win but the missing 10 per cent still eludes the group when it comes to execution, and it eludes Eddie when it comes to selection; positions 6 and 15 still remain wide open.

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