If you’ve seen Ocean’s Eleven you’ll ready know that a “smash and grab” perpetrated by super intelligent and experienced individuals (and lovely George Clooney), and planned with military precision, is still an experience fraught with danger and roadblocks.
Considering the obstacles, it’s going to be one wild script if Eddie’s Thirty-Three does anything but crash and burn in France.
Obstacle number one: a shocking run with injury toll that has the team’s most experienced player, Michael Hooper, limping towards the Rugby World Cup – and no certainty to get there – and another of the leadership group Allan Alaalatoa ruled out with his Achilles rupture this week.
Taniela Tupou is in Dunedin ahead of Bledisloe II and that very fact points to another issue facing Jones. If the star prop hadn’t been out of the game for so long with his own Achilles rupture it’s inconceivable he would be risked again a week after suffering rib damage in Melbourne. But he needs minutes in those meaty legs.
“He was a bit sore coming off. So we’ll just see where he is. He’s done some of the training today,” said Wallabies assistant Neal Hatley.
“So he’s recovered reasonably well, but he’s come off a really big Achilles injury. We’re not going to just throw him back in – we’ll make sure that if he’s right and he’ll play it and if no someone else will get a go.”
The options include Reds prop Zane Nonggorr, who had a baptism of fire in the loss to South Africa.
“To go to South Africa and play in Pretoria and then come to New Zealand against a good New Zealand side, you find out a lot about some of these young men in this situation. So, if Taniela doesn’t go it’s a great opportunity for someone else,” Hatley said.
He acknowledged ”it’s going to be a tough learning school for some of them.
“For Zane and one or two those guys Pretoria was a tough day, but they’re going to be much better for it.“
But how much better is going to be enough better?
“You can’t really replace someone like Al,” said Hatley. “We’re devastated for him because he got himself into such a great position. You don’t replace someone like him. But what it does do is it give other people opportunities. This is a great opportunity for other guys to step forward now.”
Another to be presented with an opportunity late in the piece is Carter Gordon, and Hatley hinted that Jones is ready to stick with the young Rebels playmaker after an erratic first chance as starting No.10 last weekend.
“I think he was a bit disappointed with the way he played,” said Hatley.
“He’s a young man, 22, and he’s had two or three caps. It’s a fairly tough game to start in, and we thought playing in Melbourne, his home city… But he’s a young man, his first real full season of Super Rugby. He’s getting better day by day.
“We want to keep putting him in those positions to help him find his feet. From a forward pack point of view we’ve got to give him better ball to work with. It’s never just one thing. It’s we’ve got to help putting him in better positions, where he finds the game a little bit easier.”
Hatley was bullish about the efforts of another youngster – Tom Hooper at open side flanker in the 38-7 MCG loss.
He was asked if Hooper’s selection in a role he’s barely featured was a sign that the Wallabies would opt for a big pack going forward.
“I think we will mix it up. We will pick the team that we think is best for the day,” he responded.
“Hoops has played a bit for the Brumbies at seven, he’s played at six for us in South Africa. We wanted to see how he would go at seven. We’ll have a look at the balance of the entire pack of the balance of what we bring off the bench and then make a decision on that – so it’s not really that much about size.
“He’s a good lineout forward. He’s good over the ball. I think he made 24-25 tackles on the weekend. So yeah, it’s just what we think is applicable on the day and making sure you’ve got the balance right.”
If this has the ring of a development squad about it, that extends past the youngsters in the playing group.
Obstacle number two: a lack of time together as a coaching group.
Hatley was quick to remind that the coaching staff have been together for five weeks and three games. That’s no time to plan a heist. Changing the head coach and all the assistants so late in the World Cup cycle was always going to be a Hail Mary.
“The All Blacks are really settled. They’ve had the same coaching staff, pretty much the same squad, for three or four years. We are a brand new coaching staff,” Hatley said.
“Under Eddie, this is our third game in terms of the whole squad together. It’s five weeks in. So I think there’s a big disparity in terms of cohesiveness, but the challenge is we have a World Cup in 40 days. There’s no excuses there.
“We’ve got to just make sure that we get the cohesion that we look for quicker. We can’t look beyond that – we’ve got to try and get into that position as quick as we can.”
Of course some fans are already losing patience.
“Patience is a priceless commodity in professional sport,” countered Hatley. “Patience will always be greatly appreciated. But we understand that there’s a real urgency to it as well. We’re not going to sit here and just pretend that we’ve got all the time in the world. We don’t.
“We’re disappointed massively with the result on the weekend, obviously the first 25 minutes and then the first 10 minutes of the second half were good minutes for us. But we understand the urgency.”
The next task after Saturday’s early afternoon match will be to put the finishing touches on the 33-man World Cup squad to be named late next week.
The three games so far, the tough training sessions players have endured, have been geared towards nailing that, with 10 spots in particular that will take some time to decide.
“We’ve watched players leading into obviously to the start of the Rugby Championship and you’re watching training as well,”said Hatley.
“We try and make training as competitive as it can be, particularly from a forwards’ point of view with all the live sessions that we’re doing. We understand that you really need to look hard at say, numbers 23 through to 33 to make sure you’re getting the right players and you get good coverage, and you get people that can add value. We want guys who can really add value to the entire squad.”