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COMMENT: Eddie must be axed if he can't beat Wales - or the game will be in deep trouble in Australia

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Expert
19th September, 2023
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When you find yourself in a deep hole digging, stop digging.

How do you mitigate the original error of hiring Eddie Jones too late in a World Cup cycle to do things he is no longer able to do? Give him a clear requirement, Board. Qualify or you are out.

If Dave Rennie was cut abruptly because he lost to Italy, Jones should be moved up and out if he cannot beat Wales this week.

Financially set Jones could still do a job at RA, if he loves Australian rugby so much, in the vein of publicity and outreach.

But if the Board does not bring accountability to Jones now, the hole will flood, he will flee, and the game we love will be in deep trouble in Australia.

If his Wallabies team are the first Australians to fail to qualify for the knockouts of a World Cup on the weakest draw ever, he cannot be head man of the men’s senior team.

Any other coach would be axed for that level of performance in picking and leading a top tier side.

Eddie Jones, Head Coach of Australia, looks on at full-time following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Australia and Fiji at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on September 17, 2023 in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Eddie Jones, Head Coach of Australia, looks on at full-time following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Australia and Fiji at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on September 17, 2023 in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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“The worst decision Rugby Australia could make for the Wallabies in 2023 would be to hire Eddie Jones as their head man,”  I wrote here in November last year. 

My rationale was:

“As he grows into the role, pet projects will eclipse methodology, assistants will run for the exits, some players will be vaccinated from selection and others will be immune from the drop, the press will be either domesticated or ostracised, and interminable excuses will grow like beets in the Lockyer Valley – “We’re building for 2027, mate.”

I take no joy revisiting my opinion this week after the Fiji triumph (Wallaby debacle): accountability demands writers examine their work, just as much as coaches.

My November piece never stated Eddie Jones would fail at marketing rugby in Australia.

My scalpel was precise: Eddie had peaked, the game has moved beyond him, he does not know how to build top tight forward depth, does not select wisely, squanders talent if it does not suit his fickle personality, can’t teach good referee management, runs off strong assistants who threaten his throne or gimmicks, silences opposition, cows boards into submission until he bolts, and even if he owns the media, if an early exit become the story, hell hath no fury than the press scorned.

My precis was he had never recovered from the 2019 final loss, as shown by his incoherent never truly understood it, and his “my fault, my responsibility alone, kick me” is only partly a shield for his players.

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Part of that pathology fits his larger hairshirt narrative: the underdog, unjustly treated, underestimated, the outsider.

Another part is: it becomes more and more about him. Just Eddie.

Nobody knows his assistants, his captain is a committee, clear-spoken veterans like Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper are expelled, and when he says it was his fault, it is only later, much later in a new bestseller book that he explains his ‘fault’ in the 2019 final: “I should have chosen Joe Marler ahead of Mako (Vunipola),” which is actually a slam on Mako more than a true mea culpa, the same Mako turned to pudding by Frans Malherbe — he who Eddie underestimated in 2019 —in late 2022, which put a karma nail in his RFU job.

On our podcast, Eddie told us he had the USA gig nailed down already, as his England team went from scoring 14 tries (2020) to 12 (2021) to 8 (2022); and thank god for Italy as fodder.

By the end, he had a League and AFL-led assistant group, having lost ten strong coaches, and over a five year period, named 173 players but only capped 100. If anything, his cycle appears to have sped up.

Pool C 2023 was the easiest pool the Wallabies have ever swum in.

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Josh Kemeny was in a pool in France, whilst Pete Samu was back home, wondering. Andrew Kellaway was somewhere in Saint Etienne, wandering.

Jones does not look happy. The mood in Camp Wallaby is nasty. The captain is not playing, all the veterans except Nic White are quiet, and the youngsters are beholden to Jones and Jones alone.

He is needlessly angry at the wrong people. He has tacitly admitted he is using 2023 as an experiment for 2027, but the odds of him being head coach in 2027 are about as long as a Ben Donaldson punt with five minutes to play against Fiji.

Australians saved and planned and traveled to France hoping and expecting to see the very best 23 players on offer playing smart Aussie rugby: a clever midfield, a masterful flyhalf, a gritty nine, and footballers at the back, depending on a scrappy parity pack with high IQ loosies.

PARIS, FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 09: Eddie Jones, Head Coach of Australia, during the warm up prior to the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Australia and Georgia at Stade de France on September 09, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Carter Gordon is a good rugby player. I have no idea if he is a Test flyhalf, or if he is better than Noah Lolesio, or if he is better than Ben Donaldson, or if he is going to be a 20 Test journeyman or better than Bernard Foley or even better than Quade Cooper. But I do know he is not clearly any of those things right now.

And yet that was obvious for all of 2023. His kicking and game management and vision is not yet up to the standard of all the top teams’ backup tens.

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He should have apprenticed under Cooper this Cup, getting a start versus Georgia.

Wallaby fans are not a 2023 experiment. Their thousands of dollars invested is real money spent.
Instead, they were scorned by a head coach who has a pet project of youth, and had to endure the embarrassment of Suli Vulivalu being in the back three of the most important ten minutes of this Wallaby decade so far.

Is he one of Australia’s best three outside backs? Best ten?

In his defensive press conferences, Jones says he takes responsibility as if it is at issue. Of course exotic picks are his fault!

He has become belligerent quicker, his excuses have grown faster (basically that the team was going nowhere anyway), his team has reached 18 penalties in a crucial loss to Fiji (nearly a record), and he had rookie game managers on the pitch down the stretch instead of artful, winner mentality smash-and-grab artists like Cooper who have seen everything Fiji offered and know how to combat it, and most importantly, his callow team played shallow like a bunch of newbies without cohesion tend to play.

Take him at his word. He said he could win the Cup. Now he says he might beat Wales. That should be the bare minimum.

Stop digging the hole.

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