Maybe we should take Eddie Jones on his word – the ”stuff up in St Etienne” really is his fault.
Jones might have been doing what many a coach has in the wake of humbling defeat – deflecting the criticism away from underperforming players by accepting the blame, while not really believing it. But if he doesn’t, he should.
Jones’ experience and record buys him plenty of credit but his decision to strip experience and leaders from the Wallabies for this tournament is looking like a catastrophic move for their chances in France. It has also led to a historic defeat – the coach wasn’t even born when the Fijians last beat Australia in 1954.
He was booed when his face went up on the big screen. There may have been a few Australian voices joining in the din but there’s no doubt the French “neutrals” aren’t fans of the former England coach.
“I’m a bit used to it mate and after that I probably deserve more,” Jones said. “They should probably be throwing baguettes or croissants at me. It’s not good enough. I deserve whatever I get.”
On current course, the team and Jones will be coming home early and might well be pelted with bacon and egg rolls at Sydney airport.
Sonny Bill Williams called Jones out on the Stan Sport commentary, saying he’d left Wallabies No.10 Carter Gordon without the support of an older mentor.
“These selections – we’re in a high performance arena and sometimes you live and die by your selections and Eddie Jones got found out tonight” Williams said.
Yes, Sonny Bill is best mates with Quade Cooper and both of them are seemingly still upset at his snubbing. But Jones has gone into a World Cup with Gordon and Ben Donaldson as his only two options at No.10. It’s hard to see how he picks Gordon again against Wales, with Andrew Kellaway a must to return at No.15.
Jones bristled when told about Sonny Bill’s comments.
“When you’re a television commentator you’re always right. Maybe I need to be a television commentator then I’ll be right all the time,” Jones countered.
“We’ve gone with a young team. I’ve got no regrets at all. We’re building a team for the future and we’re going to go through some pain and some of the young players are going to go through some pain. You generally have an apprenticeship. He [Gordon] has plenty of support.”
It was Jones’ call to go with a youth project for this tournament.
“If that’s the wrong decision then I’ll be held accountable for that. But I think Australian rugby needs to move on to a younger team and I’m prepared to experience some pain to go through to leave Australia with a team that is capable of doing really well at a World Cup,” said Jones.
“And it’s not to say we can’t do that, we’ve had a bit of a setback today, but that’s all part of being at a World Cup. I do remember South Africa lost a game and won the World Cup, so funnier things have happened.”
There were fans who felt Eddie had a few tricks up his sleeve and would turn the team’s fortunes around after a 0-5 start to his comeback. They were buoyed briefly by the win over Georgia, but the reality must be sinking in as his record went to 1-7 – this is the start of the 2027 World Cup campaign.
Jones hinted at it again when he described this powerful Fiji team as one at the end of it’s cycle. His team is a work in progress.
“They’ve got a quality team, they’re well coached … probably close to their peak. We’re at the beginning of our cycle,” said Jones.
“I think if you look at the records, the stats show that that’s the youngest finishing group for Australia since 1995. So amongst the gloom, there’s some really promising things, particularly from the younger players.”
Did he have a message for Australian supporters? “Get ready for Wales. I don’t coach the fans, I appreciate all their support. We’re doing our absolute best and I apologise. It’s my fault. I take full responsibility for it.”
He was pleased with the fight his team showed, and there’s no denying that they threw everything into their vain bid to run down Fiji’s big lead.
“I’ve seen teams go away when Fiji is like that and we didn’t,” said Jones. “We stuck in there and hung in there. We just couldn’t get one part of our game really going. If we could have got our maul going that could have changed the game but we couldn’t get that going. We didn’t get any ascendancy in the scrum and we were beaten at the breakdown.”
As for next week and the must-win match with Wales, what does Jones say to lift his team again?
“It’s like any game – you’re trying to learn. You’re trying to work out what you’ve got to do next week,” said Jones.
“Except that we didn’t play well. Try to work out why we didn’t play well. But take the positives out of it and build for next week. A young team’s no different from an older team, except that a younger team has more variation in their performance. And that’s what we’re seeing at the moment. And it’s not good variation. So we’ve got one week to fix it.
Jones is playing the long game, prioritising the future ahead of the now.
“I’ve gone down the line of picking a young team and I want this young team to be a good team at the moment.
We had a bad day today, which can happen,” he said.
“It definitely hurts me personally, 100 per cent. And as I said, I’m 100 per cent responsible for it.
“And we’ve got to be better next week. So that’s my responsibility.”