On the same day Eddie Jones named his fourth Wallabies captain in as many Tests, the national coach slammed those questioning his selection of international rookie playmaker Carter Gordon alongside new skipper Tate McDermott to take on the All Blacks on Saturday.
After Gordon had a mixed evening on starting debut in the No.10 jersey in Bledisloe I, a New Zealand journalist questioned Jones’ selection by entrusting the 22-year-old for the high stakes trans-Tasman encounter.
Jones fired back by saying he got the selection “right”.
Probed about his decision to start Gordon once again in the key playmaking position, Jones said anyone who questioned the move did not know “anything about rugby”.
“Well, firstly, I don’t think I got it wrong mate,” he told journalists on Thursday, having made three changes to his starting XV from the side that lost 38-7 at the MCG.
“In fact, I’m going to get it right and the player will get it right, and to say that a young 10 in his first game, you’ve got it wrong in selecting him, is just a load of rubbish mate.
“So, anyone who asks that question, doesn’t know anything about rugby.
“Well if you know anything about rugby, you know that 10s need time in the seat.
“If you don’t know anything about rugby, don’t talk to me.”
After a bumpy start to his Super Rugby career, Gordon enjoyed a breakout season in 2023 as he took the bull by the horns for the Rebels following Matt To’omua’s departure.
It led to Jones calling Gordon the “best young 10 in the country” following last weekend’s defeat, having impressed with his skill set out of hand and physicality on both sides of the ball for the Rebels.
But as was the case throughout this year’s Super Rugby campaign, Gordon’s kicking game let him down.
Having not been the Rebels’ first-choice goal kicker nor kick restarter this season, Gordon’s missed penalty and failure to reach the 10-metre line after the All Blacks scored late in the first half was one of the turning points in last week’s defeat.
Jones said mistakes were an unfortunate reality of “regenerating” the team, but pointed to Richie Mo’unga’s development as a Test rugby player since debuting in 2018 as living proof that playmakers need time in the saddle.
“Well, that’s not how coaching goes, mate,” Jones said when asked whether he had spent time talking to his young playmaker throughout the week in Dunedin.
“He’s a young guy coming through, he’s getting enough instruction from his assistant coaches and my job is just to give him the confidence to keep going forward, he’s going to keep making mistakes, I can guarantee you that, and he’ll learn from that.
“And when he’s played as many Tests as Richie Mo’unga, or [Damian] McKenzie plays, the tip is McKenzie’s going to play, he’ll cease to make as many mistakes as he makes now.
“Now we’d love him to have a mistake-free game on Saturday, but the reality is that he’s a young guy learning his apprenticeship, he needs to make his mistakes and learn from it, and not listen too much for blokes like you. So that’s my job, to make sure he doesn’t listen to blokes like you.”
He added: “Now particularly for 10s, with defences being better and better organised and the linespeed being harder, their job’s become so much more difficult. And it will take Carter some time.
“Now we’d like that to happen quickly, but I think for the sake of Australian rugby we need to invest in a young 10 because Quade, as good a player as he is, he’s not the future of Australian Rugby.
“And we’ve got to look out for the future of Australian rugby and that’s why having a young captain like Tate and having Carter there has its risks and its foils but also for the future of our sport it’s important.”
Jones has selected the seventh least experienced Wallabies run-on side for the clash, with just 277 caps in the starting XV.
There is plenty of experience to come off the bench though, with 271 caps between “finishers” James Slipper, Nic White and Quade Cooper.
Coming off three defeats to start the year, Jones said more important than winning was winning at the right time to ensure “shortcuts” didn’t become normalised.
“You need it [self-belief] at the right time. When you’re ready to win,” he said.
“If you’re going to win before that then sometimes it can hide problems within the team.
“There’s a sort of a pattern here where you’ve got to play a number of games, work out your problems, then when you’re ready to win that then sometimes cements all the good things you’ve been doing because you don’t want to cement all the bad things.
“Whenever you’re a team that hasn’t been performing, what becomes normal is shortcuts become normal. Players take shortcuts. So, we want to get to a stage where it’s normal for us not to take shortcuts where we do all the tough things. And then we want to win because if you win before that, then you cement some of those old behaviours again.”
Jones was reticent to compare McDermott to another former halfback captain of his, George Gregan, but said his fresh-faced skipper shared the Wallaby great’s “strong determination to win”.
Nor did Jones want to look beyond this weekend as to who would captain the Wallabies at the World Cup.
“Tate’s captain for this game, but then we’ll assess it at the end of the tournament, then we go into World Cup mode,” he said.
“This has been a period where we’ve been finding a lot out about the team, finding out what’s good, what’s not so good.
“Where are we strong? Where are we not strong?
“And the nucleus of any good team going forward is the leadership and the captain’s obviously a massive part of that.
“So it’s all part of a bit of a transitional period for us.”
Jones named an unchanged backline for the return Bledisloe fixture, but said the selection tweaks up front, which see Richie Arnold start ahead of Will Skelton and Fraser McReight included at openside flanker and Tom Hooper shifted to the blindside for Jed Holloway, were made with the thought the match under the roof would be quick.
“We’re playing at Dunedin and if it was still the old Carisbrook we’d have picked a heavy back-row,” he said.
“But it’s going to be lightning quick and so we’ve decided to go for a faster 6, McReight at 7, who did well against Argentina, but we want him to put a bit more pressure on the ball, which is going to be important on Saturday, so therefore we’ve gone for those two.”