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SPIRO ZAVOS: My message to Hamish McLennan and Eddie Jones: 'In the name of God, go'

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26th September, 2023
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In one of the most famous scenes in British political history, Sir Leopold Amery, paraphrasing Oliver Cromwell to a Parliament beholden to King Charles I, on May 7 1940, after the successful invasion of Norway by Hitler’s armed forces, looked across the House of Commons to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and uttered the fateful words: ‘Depart, I say, and let us be done with you. In the name of God, go.’

We always must remember that rugby is a game. And that it is never to be equated with the life and death struggle for millions of people of a world war.

In the grand scheme of things, the rugby game with its World Cup tournaments that arouse such passion with millions of supporters, is an irrelevancy. But in the words of the Welsh wizard, rugby and broadcasting, Cliff Morgan: ‘Rugby is an irrelevancy. But it is a magnificent irrelevancy.’

It is magnificent because it provides millions of people around the world with a game that has a history of great matches in every type of venue and occasion, players from all walks of life and sizes, of different talents or no talents, all creeds, all political views and a grassroots of lovers in over 100 nations who embrace the rugby’s inclusive culture.

Rugby Australia’s chairman, Hamish McLennan, trampled on all these rugby virtues on the eve of the Wallabies crucial Pool Match against Wales when he told supporters who were critical of the team’s loss to Fiji and were losing confidence in the erratic leadership and selection policies of coach Eddie Jones: ‘For all the Wallaby detractors, don’t watch the game.’

It is like asking devote Muslims not to heed the call to prayer.

The Sydney Morning Herald headline to this story was: ‘RA boss tells Wallabies detractors: Don’t watch.’

It is unacceptable for a chairman of Rugby Australia to make this sort of insulting comment about ardent supporters of the Wallabies.

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Any RA Chairman who believes that justified criticism of the Wallabies is somehow not allowable is not fit for purpose for his job.

McLennan’s insult showed a contempt for the rugby community. It treated the game as if it were a television game show in need of a front man who would put controversy and showmanship ahead of results.

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan with Wallabies coach Eddie Jones. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The Sydney Morning Herald published a book, ‘Wallabies World Cup’ edited by Greg Growden after the RWC 1991. I wrote several sections of that book, including a chapter entitled ‘From Grassroots To Glory.’

That chapter argued that the Wallabies won the tournament because ‘the grassroots of Australian Rugby are of world championship quality … The Australian Rugby Community’s a tribe which has its roots in the past but is very much aware of the generations to come … The Twickenham triumph was the tribe’s greatest moment, so far.’

When McLennan signed Jones on as the coach of the Wallabies until the 2027 RWC tournament, he lectured journalists that Jones had told him he yearned for an opportunity to coach the Wallabies in a home British and Lions series and also a home RWC tournament in 2027.

Jones told the rugby journalists at the same media conference that he was confident of success with the Wallabies: ‘If we can have everyone fit and healthy going into the World Cup this year, I am confident that we can go to France and break the 24-year drought of winning the Rugby World Cup.’

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McLennan was asked by the journalists if he agreed with this promise. ‘Absolutely, ‘ he replied. ‘We have enough time to get it right.’

At the time McLennan could be forgiven for being sucked up in the whirlpool of the Eddie Jones spin-machine. All the talk about hiring a psychologist, training the team in the heat of the Northern Territory, selecting youth over old legs, the Jones record of getting three different teams into a RWC final and developing a side that could win in Australia in 2027.

Right now, though, after the disastrous loss to Wales 40- 6, with the Wallabies failing to score a point in the second half of the match, the Jones promise of RWC glory for his team sounds like McLellan was convinced by a Rugby equivalent of the Music Man.

The reality of the Jones record, as opposed to his spin on it, is that in his first term as the coach of the Wallabies he won one Test out of his last seven: and in this second term, he has won one Test, against Georgia, out of 8.

There has been the Jones sizzle. But where is the beef?

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Moreover, Jones is going to be the first Wallaby coach in a RWC tournament not to take his team out of the Pool Round and into the Quarter Finals. And the architect of the Wallabies worst loss in a RWC tournament.

 Message to Hamish McLennan, who has refused to even consider sacking Jones, from the grassroots of Australian rugby: ‘In The Name Of God, Go.’

In that same chapter I finished my tribute to the Australian rugby tribe by praising ‘the journalists who have scolded, criticised, praised and kept alive the ideal of the ensemble Wallaby game.’

This is the job of the rugby journalists. They fulfill the role as a sort of loyal opposition. They are at their best in this role when, in the splendid Australian vernacular, they ‘keep the bastards honest.’

However, in his last media conference before flying out of Sydney International Airport with his World Cup squad, Eddie Jones arrogantly lectured the journalists for trying to keep him honest: ‘I know what’s wrong with Australian rugby, and part of you blokes are the problem.’

The venom continued: ‘I can’t believe the level of negativity here. You’re so negative about everything. I can feel this negativity – I’ve got to wash myself off because it’s just sticking to me.’

And Jones continued the pile-on when he interrupted on a question about what he saw in his youthful squad with the sarcastic rejoinder: ‘Nothing, mate, We’re terrible,’

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Jones owed it to the Australian rugby community to give a rationale for dropping Quade Cooper and Michael Hooper, aging former stars. Instead, as he walked out of the press conference he launched one last bomb at the journalists: ‘You ought to give yourselves uppercuts.’

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Then during the fraught days leading up to the match against Wales, the SMH, published a genuine bombshell revelation summed up in the headline: ‘Eddie Jones held Zoom job interview with Japan days before Wallabies’ World Cup campaign.’

The SMH put a list of questions to Jones about the details of the story which he denied, a denial endorsed Rugby Australia’s CEO Phil Waugh who stated that ‘Eddie’s said there’s nothing in it. So, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of the matter.’

However, the first sentence of the SMH stated: ‘Wallabies boss Eddie jones was secretly interviewed by Japanese rugby officials to take over as the country’s head coach just days before Australia’s Rugby World Cup campaign started in France.’

The damaging element of this story is that it undermines the plan to take a young team to RWC 2023 to battle-harden them into a new and much younger Wallabies side for the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia in 2025 and RWC 2027.

In my opinion, Eddie Jones has put his own ego and interests ahead of the best interests of the Wallabies.

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Message to Eddie Jones: ‘In The Name Of God, Go.’

I need now to come clean about how I, as a member of the rugby journalists tribe, fell for the Jones trick described by The Guardian’s Jonathan Liew as his ‘gift for building his own reality and making us all believe … a master of public bluff and bluster.’

I argued in the No. 3 edition of this series of articles on RWC 2023 that Jones was ‘correct’ to sack most of the senior members of the Wallabies he inherited, including its leadership group and that there was method in this ‘madness.’

‘In my opinion,’ I wrote, ‘Jones is correct to do this, even though the short-term problems involved with creating a new side in a few months could make the coming World Cup tournament a painful learning experience for his side – and for all Wallabies supporters.’

The presumption behind this fearless prediction was that at the least the new Jones Wallabies would make the quarter-finals of the RWC 2023 tournament, something that every other Wallabies side has achieved. And that a side with growth in it was a better proposition moving forward to the British and Irish Lions tour in 2025 and RWC 2027 in Australia than a side that was over the hill.

The reasoning behind this claim that a new side was needed going into the tournament was that Dave Rennie’s side, with the sacked senior members and leadership group most of the three year coaching stint, won only 36.6 per cent of their Tests.

Only one Wallaby coach, Des Connor, back in 1968 – 1971, had a worse record with 2 wins out of 14 Tests, a 14.29 per cent than Rennie.

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The two coaches before Rennie, Ewen McKenzie and Michael Cheika, were both in effect sacked with records of winning 50 per cent of their Tests.

I suggested that his appointment of the Polynesian giant, Will Skelton, as captain would lift the morale of the players.

This proved to be correct when Skelton played a blinder against Georgia in powering his Wallabies to victory in their first match of RWC 2023. The 35 -15 victory over a tough Georgia side gave the Wallabies a seemingly crucial bonus point

Unfortunately, Skelton was not available after this game for the next matches, the losses to Fiji and Wales.

LWill Skelton of Australia speaks with teammates as they huddle after defeat to Wales during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Wales and Australia at Parc Olympique on September 24, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Nor was the powerhouse prop Taniela Tupou who led the forward pack that dismantled Georgia’s famed scrum.

It was the Wales scrum, after conceding a couple of early penalties, that smashed a Wallabies pack that was essentially powerless without Tupou and Skelton.

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A cascade of scrum penalties gave Wales the field position to kick the Wallabies RWC hopes to death, with Gareth Anscombe converting five penalties and a drop goal.

We come now to the case of Gordon Carter.

Jones banked his RWC hopes essentially on this youngster being a Stephen Larkham clone in the number 10 position.

It is a matter of Rugby history that Larkham was moved from the fullback position by Rod Macqueen to the playmaking role at number 10 and that the Macqueen Wallabies won every trophy, including the World Cup and the Bledisloe Cup sparked by Larkham’s genius as a playmaker.  

Carter seemed to have this game, or was expected to develop a Larkham-like game.

But his inexperience was exposed in the Fiji match. He miskicked. He could not deliver any ball to his outside backs they could run on to. The backline had no fluency or impact as a consequence. So he was hooked. And relegated to the reserves bench for the crucial match against Wales.

The sad fact that exploded the Carter Experiment is that great number 10s are as rare as a blue moon.  

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The moment of truth for the entire Wallabies Experiment came in the 26th minute of the contest against Wales.

The score line was 10 – 6 to Wales, with the Wallabies making most of the play and exercising a control over field position.

A penalty was won in mid-field and within an easy kicking distance from the posts.

The Wallabies captain, David Porecki, turned down the penalty kick option.

Ben Donaldson booted the ball to within 8 metres of the Wales try line.

What happened next was something akin to a Marx Brothers skit.

Porecki over-threw the ball into the lineout.

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A couple of Wallaby jumpers fell over and tumbled to the ground.

The Wales captain and breakaway, Jac Morgan, an outstanding figure in the match, snatched the ball and raced away before kicking the ball downfield.

The ball went out inside the Wallabies 22. Morgan had won his side a 50 – 22 throw in.

From the next phase of play, Wales won a penalty which Anscombe converted to take Wales out to a 13 – 6 lead. Game over.

Towards the end of the match Wallabies fans had had enough.

Daniel Gallan, in an excellent account of the match for The Guardian takes up the story: ‘When Carter Gordon, a young man treated like a rag doll because of poor management above him, missed his penalty touch finder thereby handing possession back to Wales, throngs of fans in gold made their way to the exit.’

This brings us back to Hamish McLennan’s insult to these very fans that they didn’t have to watch the Wallabies if they didn’t like their poor play.

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As the ancient Greeks predicted: ‘Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first grant them their wishes.’

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