Civil war is about to erupt in Australian rugby, with the Melbourne Rebels to sue Rugby Australia as the embattled Super Rugby franchise fights…
Let’s leave his cringeworthy warning to the All Blacks to one side for now.
Eddie Jones’ early press conferences border on alarming. Rambling in nature, the man appears to contradict himself and confound others in equal measure.
Even on simple points, Jones’ responses seem unnecessarily combative and bizarre.
When asked about his decision to go with a 6/2 bench split, Jones responded “[There’s] an element of risk when you got five-three, too”. He added: “I don’t understand your question.”
It was a petty answer to a basic question that makes Australian Rugby look silly, especially in the wake of Len Ikitau’s injury.
However, even on more complex issues, Jones is all over the place too. Just a few months ago, infamously he had this to say:
“Possession rugby is dead. It’s dead for the moment and it’s probably going to be dead for a long period of time. The game’s about being fast now. You’ve got 75 per cent of tries being scored in three phases – 75 per cent.”
The implication was that playing the game, or attempting to play the game differently to other Tier 1 Nations is futile.
Following the Rugby Championship loss to Los Pumas, Eddie noted:
“We’re going to be able to play a game that gives us an opportunity to win the World Cup, and to do that we have to change because if we try to copy other teams, which maybe has been the case, then we’re not going to be good enough.”
To my mind, that was a thinly veiled criticism of Dave Rennie and attempts to coach the ‘NZ Way’ in Australia. Yet Jones seems to be pretty keen on replicating the way he coached England with this Wallaby side, doesn’t he?
Kicking away possession to a brutally rugged Springbok pack in Pretoria was ‘interesting’. At least in the sense that few have been so courageously stupid.
The British and Irish Lions in 2021 took a similar game plan to South Africa. It didn’t work. England have tried the same, it didn’t work. An under-powered, struggling Wallaby pack wasn’t going to be different.
Running rugby is dead apparently. But the Wallabies have been mauled so badly in successive weeks they are already in ICU themselves. All without running the ball.
It perhaps isn’t a coincidence the Wallabies look like a confused rabble lacking comprehension of what Eddie Jones wants from them.
Before I go on, let it be said that there is a delicious irony here in that we have been sold Eddie, an Australian coach, on the basis that he understands the ‘Australian Way’.
That his rich history at Randwick, the Galloping Greens may suggest running rugby is his go to game. In his DNA.
However, those of us old enough to remember when Eddie left Australian Rugby, will recall a coach obsessed with statistics who often trotted them out seemingly only to establish he’s smarter than all of us.
I don’t remember the exact press conferences back in the naughties, but they seemed to go like this all too often:
“Mate. Look at the analytics. 63% of fifth phase ball is attacking quality unless 15% of the five phases were mauls in which case a team should kick before the seventh phase.”
Eddie’s recent utterances about how he wants to play the game are all too reminiscent of that soulless, statistical approach.
The age of footballers playing what was in front of them seems a bygone era. We have one Quade Cooper playing at 10 but with no license to thrill.
Again, according to Jones, “Possession rugby is dead… You’ve got 75 per cent of tries being scored in three phases – 75 per cent.”
I’m not in a position to second guess that quote but is it consistent with anyone’s recollection of Super Rugby? Are the stats Jones seems so sure of confined to the Northern Hemisphere and if so should we really be seeking to emulate it? What would Razor Robertson’s take on it be?
It sure isn’t the greatest thing to put out there when you are trying to attract players like Cameron Murray and Payne Haas to the game. “Hey guys come to Rugby to chase box kicks and tackle.”
But I digress. Let’s stick with the squad we have right now.
When Jed Holloway was asked what Jones wanted from his forwards his reply was blunt.
“Mate, to be honest, just physical. He wants a big strong pack that is willing to run over people and front up in defence.”
Now call me silly, but when was the last time we saw a Wallaby pack dominate Tier 1 opposition? Perhaps the RWC Semi-Final in 2015 against Argentina?
I certainly don’t recall too many examples of Wallaby forwards ‘running over people’ recently.
In fact, against the Tier 1 Nations, particularly those we may find in say the World Cup Semi-Finals, it’s generally been the other way around.
The Boks dominated the Wallabies physically. They were harder, stronger and fitter. We have to admit that. The pack weights were similar but almost to a man, the Wallabies looked like a Colts team playing against a bunch of 30yo’s.
It is not too early to ask questions about whether it’s feasible for the Wallabies to play the game of Rugby the way Eddie wants to play it.
Australian Rugby does not have the cattle to play the way Eddie Jones wants to. Arguably, it never has.
Dave Rennie looked for his forwards to win collisions but recognised, I believe, that parity was the best he could hope for.
Michael Cheika is full of mongrel and his teams play in his image. His ageing Wallaby team was overpowered in 2019 but played the game with width and possession in 2015. They were only bested by probably the greatest international side in history.
Alan Jones, Bob Dwyer, Rod MacQueen. None of them thought the way to beat the Springboks was to enter a kicking duel and then ‘overpower’ them. None of them.
Australia’s running rugby reputation isn’t one that was dreamt up. We have rarely outkicked our opposition. We have rarely scrummaged sides off the park or overpowered Tier 1 sides because we traditionally haven’t fielded packs that can do that. Why? Because outside of physical freaks like Taniela Tupou, we don’t have the cattle in Australia.
There is no Owen Farrell in Australian Rugby. No Jamie George. No complete lock like Itoje or dominant blindside like Lawes.
So what am I advocating? A game plan that is compatible with the cattle we have, for a start.
Don’t pick Cooper if you’re going to have Nick White inside him, box kicking away possession 3 times out of 4. Unlike Farrell, Cooper is no robotic bull terrier that will tackle from sunrise to sunset. Quade is an instinctive, mercurial footballer who needs possession to shine.
Wright at 15 isn’t your guy if you don’t want a fly by the seat of your pants ride either. He’s a winger trying to be a fullback and unlikely to embrace the structure that Eddie needs.
Link men like Hooper and McReight don’t have a role to play at 7 if you’re not going to attack in open play and require forwards to ‘run over’ their opposition.
If set pieces and the first few phases of attack are so important, you need hookers that can throw and scrummage. But we don’t have a Jamie George do we.
Jones is a real good coach, just ask him. So surely part of his remit is coaching to the strength of the players available to him. Surely.
If Eddie Jones doesn’t start doing so, it’s entirely conceivable that going into the Rugby World Cup his 2023 record will be 0-5.
Right now, forget winning the Bledisloe or beating France in a warm up test. The first pool game against a resurgent Georgia could be awfully embarrassing.