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Setback that could cruel Wallabies' RWC hopes - but all hope not lost if Eddie sticks with Gen Next

30th July, 2023
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30th July, 2023
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In the grand scheme of things, losing to the All Blacks on Saturday night was nothing to lose sleep over for Eddie Jones.

But the sight of seeing Allan Alaalatoa taken from the field on a medicab won’t just have sent a shiver down the spines of the 84,000 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground but Jones’ too.

The acting captain’s Achilles injury was a dagger in the heart for the Wallabies because no international side goes deep in a World Cup without an anchor at the scrum.

There’s a reason why tight-head props are amongst the highest paid players in the world now because matches are often won and lost at the set-piece.

Without them backlines are suffocated. Just ask John Connolly, who is still having nightmares about the fact his rockstar backline in 2007 saw no ball after his scrum was taken to the cleaners by Andrew Sheridan and Phil Vickery’s English pack.

Rugby Australia thought they were onto a winner when the governing body forked out hefty money on ensuring their two prized tight-head props would stay in Australia beyond this year’s World Cup.

Between Alaalatoa and Taniela Tupou, the duo was secured at $2 million.

Now, Jones has just one of his tight-head props left at his disposal and the Wallabies have yet to arrive in Paris.

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And Tupou, who was making his Wallabies comeback having returned from his own ruptured Achilles at Lansdowne Road against Ireland last November, left the MCG in agony after picking up a rib injury.

Allan Alaalatoa of the Wallabies walks off the ground after he sustained an injury during the The Rugby Championship & Bledisloe Cup match between the Australia Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks. (Photo by Morgan Hancock/Getty Images)

How severe the injury is remains to be seen, with Tupou travelling to Dunedin with the Wallabies for their return fixture next Saturday.

While he could conceivably play through the injury with the help of some medicine, it’s unlikely he will be risked.

But it means Tupou, who is desperately short of match practice and fitness, will be going to France severely underdone and carrying the hopes of the Wallabies.

Nor will he be able to be managed through the World Cup either, with their first-up opponents Georgia likely licking their lips at the prospect of taking on the Wallabies without at least one of their prized props.

Fiji, who have historically struggled to match World Rugby’s best up front, will too be pumping out their chests even further.

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Suddenly, the Wallabies’ dream run is looking just a bit more treacherous – and that’s before you consider the fine work Simon Raiwalui is doing with Fiji.

Jones has several crucial selections to consider over the coming days.

Unless Jones believes the Wallabies must take it to the All Blacks, Jones would surely learn more about his tight-head depth by turning to his wider squad, including Pone Fa’amausili.

Zane Nonggorr might have been called up to the squad on Sunday, but at some point the Wallabies must find out whether the Reds prop can play more than 20 minutes.

Nor would Jones want to push Angus Bell too far either, with the rising loose-head prop only recently returning to the playing field after recovering from another foot issue.

These are delicate times Jones must tread.

Despite the loss of one of the Wallabies’ key men, Jones will still feel he has a team capable of stressing some of the world’s best sides. He even said as much.

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“Where’s there’s life there’s hope,” he said.

“I’ve coached teams like this before and you can turn it around. I saw enough today to know that we can be a bloody good team.

“It doesn’t look like it at the moment. You’re sitting there thinking ‘shit what’s his bloke talking about?’ But I’m telling you, we can turn it around and be very good too.

He added: “I saw enough today to make me believe that we can, but there’s a lot of hard work to do. Transforming a team from where they are now to a team that’s capable of beating New Zealand takes a lot of hard work and the clock’s ticking, but we’ve still got enough time.”

Carter Gordon of the Wallabies passes during the The Rugby Championship & Bledisloe Cup match between the Australia Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks at Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 29, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Carter Gordon. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Nor should Jones turn away from Carter Gordon at the first chance either.

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The 22-year-old’s kicking might have let him down but under his blond locks is a tough footballer with an ability to play at the line and out the back.

With Bell and Samu Kerevi providing strong ball-running options, as well as the powerful Jordan Petaia and elusive Mark Nawaqanitawase out wide, the Wallabies’ shape looked the best it has in the three Tests to date under Jones.

Defensively, too, Gordon drives into contact rather than throwing himself into it.

Ryan Lonergan’s swift pass – and goal-kicking prowess – would help give Gordon more time, but the probing nature and never-say-die attitude of Tate McDermott, who is also an excellent cover defender, is something that Jones should persist with in some capacity.

These are characteristics that will keep the Wallabies a threat even if there is some pain along the way.

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