Wallabies coach Eddie Jones has admonished Australia A assistant Laurie Fisher for “inappropriate” comments on the current coaching set up, while acknowledging he and his team have fallen short of their own expectations so far.
Fisher, who was an assistant coach for the Australia A team beaten in Tonga last week, questioned the credentials of Jones’ defence assistant Brett Hodgson, a former rugby league international, on The Roar Rugby podcast this week.
“From watching the game, I don’t know that they have great clarity themselves at the moment,” Fisher, defence assistant under Dave Rennie last year, said of the Wallabies.
“They have a new defensive coach [Brett Hodgson] who’s never coached rugby union, hasn’t played rugby union.
“He’s obviously working on connection and kick chase and first phase. Is he also talking about what is our contest policy between the 15s, what do you do in our own 22? I saw guys having a crack, but I didn’t see a designated policy of how we’re going to get some pressure on their ball.
“Even close to our line, I saw Jed Holloway pull out of a contest. For goodness sake, you’ve just got to go in and make a mess of it. It’s a non-negotiable. So I don’t know if that’s an area that they’ve addressed with any significance yet. So it’s a huge area for potential improvement.”
Jones was asked about Fisher’s thoughts during a media conference on Saturday.
“Laurie is a member of the Australian A staff so I find those comments inappropriate,” said Jones.
Pressed on if it was a risk to go into high stakes Bledisloe Cup and World Cup tournaments with a defensive coach inexperienced in the XV-man game, Jones said: “Our whole situation is a risk and also an opportunity.
“I’ve got no doubt we’re not as clear about how we want to play as we want to be. The only problem I see with that is we’re not performing as we’d like to perform.
“But in a build up to a World Cup these sorts of teething problems are sometimes the best problems to have. And sometimes you find out more about your team in these situations than you do when you think things are going along swimmingly. And they’re not getting along swimmingly.
“And all the comments Laurie’s made … he’s a smart coach and he did a great job with defence for Australia A, so we can take good consolation from that and if we need someone to help us we can use him.”
It was noted that the Wallabies lacked alignment in defence and attack around the breakdown.
“We’re not [aligned] and that’s part of the issues we’ve got at the moment. But in time we will be,” said Jones.
“It’s an understanding issue – understanding what we need, what decisions need to be made by the players. How much is a framework and how much is the decision making of the players and we’re working out the right balance for the team.”
Jones defended the performances of two of his key players – Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi – while fielding a question about a lack of pace in his halves and at inside centre.
“We’ve got a number of players coming back from long term injuries,” said Jones. “And then we know those players, as much as we like them to be at their best now, they’re not going to be their best until the World Cup.
“We’ve got a plan in place to get each player back to their best. This is part of the process. So we don’t know where Quade’s going to end up.
“He’s still four games into returning from an Achilles tendon. Samu Kerevi is three or four games back from an ACL and they’re serious injuries. So with better exposure, the quality training and rugby training over the next period of time, they’re gonna get a lot sharper.”
He said he thought it was obvious that fans should be giving those players a break rather than piling on them.
“That would appear to be obvious. I’m happy to talk to those fans face to face if so be it. Let’s have a fan forum. Happy to answer it,” said Jones.
“Anyone who’s coming back from a long term injury needs time. That’s the most obvious and the most sensible way to look at any player and particularly from serious injuries like Achilles tendon and ACL, they need time to train, they need time to get feeling of the game back, their timing of the game back.
“I’ve got no doubt they’ll be at the best for the World Cup.”
The same will apply to Taniela Tupou, who is in the squad for the Bledisloe Cup match in Melbourne next weekend.
He will be cutting it fine though, having returned home from the Australia A tour ill.
“He hasn’t been able to train until today. He came back a little bit crook,” said Jones. “Maybe some of the native Tongan food got to him. I’m not sure. He’s back training today. And if he can get through some some good training early in the week then he may be available for selection.”
Michael Hooper is also racing the clock to be fit.
“He wasn’t able to train today and we’ll need to make a medical assessment of him over the weekend and see whether he can participate in the game or not,” said Jones.
“We’ve still got a week to go. Calf injuries we tend to be more careful with their rehab than other injuries so medical staff are being pretty careful with him.”
Jones, who dumped out of form fullback Tom Wright for the Bledisloe Cup, said he was weighing up his options for the No.15 jersey, with Jordan Petaia and Andrew Kellaway bothing having spent time in the position during training this week.
“We need to improve the team,” Jones said of what he was looking for in the No.15 role. “We haven’t been good enough for the first two games. I’m still searching for what our best team is.”
Jones goes into the series against the New Zealanders sensing that no one outside his camp gives the Wallabies a chance.
“We’re not too worried about the New Zealanders. We’ve got a lot of things to work out ourselves,” Jones said.
“We’re trying to work out our best game plan. But New Zealand have approached this season a little bit differently than they normally would.
“In a World Cup year, they tend to have a measured build up. And it looks like they’re all guns firing at the moment.
“Our aim is to put them under pressure early in the game and see how they cope with pressure on them, because they haven’t had it as yet.
“It’s a massive game, we’re looking forward to it. There’s nothing better than coaching against New Zealand.
“If you look at Australia at the moment, probably no one outside our immediate squad thinks we’ve got a chance of winning, which sometimes can drive a bit more closeness within the team, a bit more purpose about what we’re doing. We’re looking for the challenge of playing against a very good New Zealand team.”
He said the Wallabies had no choice but to embrace their underdog status.
“Generally speaking, we want to be a team that can cope with any sort of tag that gets put on the team, whether it be favorites or underdogs,” said Jones.
“You just don’t want to be a team that that fronts up when you’re underdogs. In this situation this week, where we’re massive underdogs, that creates an opportunity for us because we know if we can put pressure on a team that’s labelled as red hot favourites, sometimes that pressure can turn into increased pressure on them and stress within their team. And that’s our aim.”
Jones was asked if England’s comeback in the Ashes was something that gave him inspiration.
He dead panned: “I don’t get any inspiration from English cricket.”