I don’t really mean to speak for everyone, but I’m not seeing any great angst about the Wallabies current winless record from four starts under Eddie Jones. Are we comfortable? Am I misreading this?
There’s certainly bemusement about Dave Rennie’s record now, and the explanation given at the time of his unceremonious sacking.
Hamish McLennan’s “Eddie’s deep understanding of our rugby system and knowledge of our player group and pathways will lift the team to the next level,” offering looks rather hollow now, too.
But, it is what it is, and this egg cannot be unscrambled. The coach is saying what he wants, and reacting to not unreasonable questions the way he wants confident in the knowledge that he has the kind of backing that his immediate predecessor could only dream of.
The obvious questions do remain, though. Ideally, most of them would have been sorted out before a ball was kicked in anger, but a Rugby World Cup year and a compressed schedule works against that.
And they’re questions that warrant discussion, too. So…
No Michael Hooper, no Len Ikitau, and now question marks over Taniela Tupou, Dave Porecki, and Samu Kerevi.
Of that list, only Hooper seems to be in some kind of danger of missing the Rugby World Cup, and Allan Alaalatoa has already been ruled out.
So, was that as close to the 1st XV as we can expect? The warm-up game against France is little more than a fortnight away, but who didn’t play in Dunedin on Saturday that might the side stronger on their return?
What possible selection cards does Eddie Jones have left to play? None really spring to mind. In fact, with those aforementioned question marks, it’s entirely plausible the side that plays France on August 28 won’t be as strong.
I can’t help but wonder how this fits into the plan.
In Pretoria, the Wallabies looked all kinds of lost in defence and the Springboks were only too happy to take advantage of the situation. In Sydney against Los Pumas, it was a lot better, but still had some issues. In the two Bledisloe Tests, it’s been better again.
And I’m not even talking about tackle success rates, or defensive discipline, which both remain issues. Simply, are blokes where they’re supposed to be to stop opposition attacks, or are guys still getting caught out of position, forcing teammates to cover or causing infringements in reaction to the mistakes?
It’s a bit of a loaded question, because there are still guys getting caught. One example: watch some of Marika Koroibete’s missed tackles in New Zealand tries in the last week and a bit, and then look at how far infield he is.
If that’s by design, then why? And if he’s out of position, then why again?
There are big questions over Tupou’s fitness. Pone Fa’amausili went off on Saturday, then came back on, and then went off again, and all within 23 minutes in the second half, and by the end looked to be battling several different ailments.
Zane Nonggorr is a quality prop, but he’s found the step from Super Rugby Pacific to international level to be significant. Rhys van Nek has been in and out of the squad, Sam Talakai played for Australia A against Tonga but hasn’t been sighted otherwise, and beyond them, it’s anyone’s guess.
If there was any one player the Wallabies couldn’t afford to lose, it was Alaalatoa. And now that they have, the recovery and the alternates look far from certain.
Tate McDermott has not yet started with Quade Cooper; Carter Gordon is yet to start with Nic White. Ryan Lonergan remains uncapped.
The combinations have so far remained steadfast, and with the 9s and 10s being replaced together at the same time more often than not, it’s led to two very specific and very different games being played at the start and the end of a match. Is this ideal? You don’t play certain locks with a specific hooker, so why silo the halves?
I’ll repeat what I said in Saturday’s Instant Reaction podcast: we need to see White start with Gordon and play the same way McDermott did. We need to see McDermott play with Cooper and see how they pair up. Lonergan has to be able to slot in next to either flyhalf.
I’m not sure the current ‘horses for courses’ approach can remain so hard and fast. RWCs rarely follow the script.
The last two Wallabies squads have featured players named not as forwards or backs but as “utilities”, one of the more ridiculous things Eddie Jones has introduced to the Wallabies this year. Backrowers supposedly quick enough to start on the wing; wingers apparently ready to start on the side of the scrum. Absolute horseshit, all of it.
Yet with these ‘super-players’ theoretically ready to fill holes everywhere, the Wallabies bench for the Tests in Pretoria and Sydney didn’t have an outside back on it, and the last three Tests haven’t had an on-ball backrow bench option named at all. There have been numerous ways this has failed.
Jones does seem to have created alternate breakdown approaches that require bigger bodies for physicality, or faster players to attack the ball on the floor, depending on what his gameplan needs. Yet he’s left the most versatile backrower of all – Pete Samu – out of his last squad. I’m yet to hear why this was a good idea.
Surely if you want size to start a game, then having Samu come on to provide a more mobile option at the back of a game is an extra element of danger? Equally, if the approach is to play smaller and on the ball from the start, then Samu’s speed complimenting this off the bench surely fits the brief as well?
It’s one of the more bewildering omissions of the 2023 so far, but there’s still time to correct it. Similarly, Reece Hodge, who strikes me as the perfect No.23 option, especially for a 6-2 bench split. You know, actual utility players.
Anyway, we’ll see.
Jones names his RWC squad on Thursday, and it will be fascinating to see what inevitable surprises will be part of the announcement.
There will probably be a bolter, and there will undoubtedly be unlucky (or unexplainable) omissions.
And Eddie Jones, as always, will assure us that everything is on track, regardless of the small matter of 0 and 4.