Wallabies World Cup winner David Campese said he was in pain watching the team lose to Fiji, while the world’s media lambasted the Australians for their shocking World Cup defeat and focussed on Eddie Jones’ decision to yank Carter Gordon after 49 minutes.
“As a proud Aussie it pains me to watch the Wallabies lose to Fiji without really firing a shot and looking so short of basic rugby skills and IQ,” Campese told Planet Rugby.
“Given the kicking options of Nic White, Carter Gordon and Ben Donaldson, I was surprised that the Aussies didn’t use their footballing skills in exit and open field to get into territorial positions where they’d have the ability to keep the scoreboard ticking in the early stages.
“When you’ve got an edge in the lineout, the kicking game is an obvious weapon as you’ve a one in five chance of re-stealing the ball in the set-piece.
“But then to suddenly switch to a kick strategy in the last five minutes when Australia needed to go the length of the pitch to draw absolutely defied my comprehension. This was a side that have no clue how to attack and do not know each others’ games in terms of attack.
“A friend watched the Wallaby training sessions during the week and noted how much of it was pre-planned and called by the coaches rather than ignited by the players and that’s a huge concern.
“It’s simply not the way the Wallabies play rugby and if we continue to do that we will lose the support of our people who come to watch our traditional Aussie brand – attacking, intelligent and highly skilled, ironically the qualities Fiji exhibited all evening in this match.”
Ben Coles, writing in the UK Telegraph, said Fiji were “comprehensively the better side, a sign not only of their remarkable growth in a short space of time this year under Simon Raiwalui but also how far the Wallabies have dramatically fallen.
“The most shocking thing about the game was how normal it all felt.
“Levani Botia and Josua Tuisova, Fiji’s superstars, more than lived up to the billing, relentless over the ball at the breakdown as Australia’s attacks turned to dust.
“Fiji’s game against Wales might have ended in heartbreaking fashion with Semi Radradra’s late spill but there was only joy here, pairing their usual flair with improved game management and set-piece work to become an all-round force.
“In Botia, as the locals in France know, Fiji truly have a world-class player. But the goalkicking of scrum-half Simione Kuruvoli was a revelation, landing all five of his kicks – hard ones too – before departing with cramp.”
The media also fixated on Jones’ big call on 50 minutes – to withdraw his flyhalf Carter Gordon after a miserable performance.
“Hooking Gordon after he had been disastrously at fault for Tuisova’s try, was a damning statement from Eddie Jones,” wrote Coles.
Owen Slot in The Times, said Wallabies fans will left with one big question.
“So the headline news is that Australia have lost to Fiji for the first time since 1954,” he wrote.
“It is that Australia have sustained one massive blow here in Saint-Étienne and are down on the canvas and when they are back on their feet in Lyon next Sunday, Wales can knock them out for good.
“It is that Eddie Jones, the Australia coach, is taking responsibility and apologising for getting it wrong and suggesting that the crowd, who booed him anyway, should now be throwing baguettes and croissants at him. And of course, it is that the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard was an epic, historic place to be yesterday evening.
“Yet whatever leavened projectile anyone may wish to direct at the Australia coach, the Wallaby fans will have left here with a far more reasonable question for him, which is simply: what next?
“Because the problem here is that it isn’t just going to be a case of dust yourselves down, put it behind you and come back hard and strong. It isn’t that Jones needs to coach better next week or that they need to spend the next few days repeating ad infinitum their clear-out protocols. The problem is that Jones’s Australia didn’t just lose this match, they trashed their entire World Cup strategy in the process.”
Slot said the “story within the story was Jones’ treatment of Carter Gordon.
“When Jones picked Carter Gordon for this tournament, he was elevating a rookie to the front line. It was regarded as one almightily ballsy call — because Jones didn’t just promote a young man to the control centre of his team, he sent him there without any established back-up,” he wrote.
Slot said Gordon’s replacement was “the most significant matchnote of the entire Wallaby campaign.”
“Gordon having to make the lonely walk to the bench knowing that every eye upon him understanding that he has been deemed to have failed. In having built Gordon up as the coming man, Jones was now knocking him down. And in that one call from the coach’s box, Jones had torn up his whole plan.
“The decision to hook a player early is, of course, a hard one for a coach to make. It takes a certain courage of conviction to do so, especially when it is your playmaker.”
Daniel Gallan, in the Guardian, said “Australia lacked cohesion and composure. They’d follow up a slick move down the line with an aimless kick to no one. A swift steal on the ground would precede a knock-on. A dominant carry would come to nothing as the necessary support at the ruck failed to arrive.
“How on earth can a team outside of the Six Nations or Rugby Championship hand them such a pasting? Fiji didn’t win this through mindless ball carries from muscled men with little regard for their safety. Australia were outwitted, outfought and outclassed. They become the first so-called tier-one nation to succumb to a side that still scrapes an existence in relative obscurity between World Cups.”