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'Stands out like dog's balls', 'set up for failure': Wretched Eddie-Slips moment that explains World Cup disaster

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18th February, 2024
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After so much bluster, a theatrical cattle prod and the usual Eddie Jones BS, there is, at last, an enlightening and honest moment near the end of the three-hour journey back into hell that is Stan’s Wallabies documentary.

All three hour-long episodes will be released on the streaming service at 12.01am on Thursday. While only masochists – or All Blacks fans – will be setting alarms to get stuck straight into recounting the sick and sorry reign of Jones, there is just about enough meat on the well-gnawed bones to make it a worthwhile watch.

So was the Wallabies worst-ever World Cup campaign down to the cattle or the cowboy – who decided to ride off into the sunset instead of sticking around, faced with a situation he clearly considered unfixable?

It’s clear where Jones thought the blame should go when he pulled aside veteran prop James Slipper – who he had spurned as captain months earlier in a failed attempt to revitalise the squad – the morning after the 40-6 loss to Wales that all but ended the campaign.

Head Coach, Eddie Jones talk with James Slipper during a Wallabies training session ahead of their Rugby World Cup France 2023 match, at Stade Roger Baudras on September 28, 2023 in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Eddie Jones talks with James Slipper in France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

“That’s the problem’, mate. We’ve got no hardness about us,” Jones told Slips, in a candid chat aired 12 minutes from the end of the third and final episode. “You know, game hardness is different to any sort of hardness. Just stick in the f–king game and do it.

“There’s none of that in Australian rugby now and that’s where the big gap is.

“You look at those Welsh players. They play 30 games a year. They’re hard and tough players. They can just stick at it. They know they’re going to do it.

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“We’ve just lost that in Australian rugby. We’re not, not tough but we’re not trained to be tough now. We’re not used to playing tough. Like, it’s an exception to play tough now rather than the norm.

“It stands out like dog’s balls mate, because they are good players. And they care a lot, the players, but they’re just not hardened to play Test match rugby consistently – they’re set up for failure mate.”

For all his public support of his players (cringe all over again as you watch Eddie tell New Zealand they should “watch out”) these words to Slipper show exactly how he felt about the team’s limitations and its prospects before jumping ship.

So much happened in Australian rugby in the past 14 months, three hours can barely do it justice but the effort should be applauded.

Jones’ arrival to much fanfare, the first game in South Africa where he clashed with a reporter, his rejection of key veterans like Michael Hooper and blind faith in untested youth, that awkward ‘give yourselves uppercuts’ press conference in Sydney, so many destroyed radios and headsets and then the bombshell claim that he’d interviewed with Japan.

Watch every match of Super Rugby Pacific ad-free, live & on demand on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport

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But most of that we’ve already squeezed dry. As the producers try to cover all the ground, there is a lack of juice to be found.

Jones, of course, deserves main character status but, that Slips moment and a few others aside, there is not enough insight from the supposed coaching legend, just more of the same old schtick.

He talks a big game – “We’re on a mission to change Australian rugby.” But we all know how that worked out.

During one team meeting he stops suddenly and looks at his players, some of whom appear to be drifting off, to shock them back to attention.

“Izzy thinks ‘this guy’s a f–kwit’,” says Jones. The surprised look on Perese’s face suggests he might be thinking “how good is this bloke at reading minds?”

If there is anyone left in Australia who enjoys Eddie’s banter there are some glimpses.

“No-one ever tries to f–k up,” he says at one point. “Idiots parading as journalists” is his description of the Sydney Airport press pack. “Can I get a radio that works?” he demands at another moment after reducing yet another perfectly good handset to a pile of wires and plastic rubble.

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It’s not just the Eddie Show, however. The documentary also focuses on several Wallabies and tells their stories.

Selecting players for these roles well in advance is always fraught and the breaks didn’t go the producers’ way. Given their time again Tom Hooper would surely be a shoo in for a role. And the absence of captain Will Skelton suggests contractual or enthusiasm issues.

Nic White’s personality shines the brightest and there’s an amusing moment where he gets the World Cup call up from manager Chris Webb while standing in front of TV crews at Parliament House while presenting Albo with a Wallabies jersey – and is told to keep the news to himself.

Michael Hooper’s honest reflection on the ugly way his omission dawned on him, shows his character.

Taniela Tupou should have been doco gold but injuries robbed him of minutes, along with his humour and joy. Instead of Tupou magic there was too much dwelling on his ailments.

With so much focus on Eddie’s odd selection of his coaching assistants, it’s unfortunate, but not unexpected, they’re all but ignored.

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We get a small dash of Neil Craig and a sprinkle of Pierre-Henry Broncan but it’s crickets from others like Dan Palmer, Jason Ryles and Brett Hodgson – the only assistant who ducked media throughout his lucrative months in the program. What roles did they play – did they help or hinder Eddie, and why did he choose them? Don’t expect answers.

In fact, team doctor Sharron Flahive and team psychologist Corrine Reid – whose advice Eddie seems not that to keen to take – each get more air time than the rest of the staff combined.

Taniela Tupou of Australia is taken from the pitch to receive medial attention during the Bank of Ireland Nations Series match between Ireland and Australia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Taniela Tupou and doctor Sharron Flahive. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Allan Alaalatoa dominates the opening episode but the Achilles injury he suffers robs the show of a leading man before the big show even began.

Carter Gordon reacts to his rollercoaster with humour and grace while Slipper should impress anyone who’s on the fence about him with his candour.

Slipper is just as you would expect. Brutally honest and uninterested in hiding his true feelings.

Right at the end, the cameras capture the Wallabies having a few brews – Eddie laughing away on the red wines – as they cheered Portugal on for a miracle that would have extended their stay past the pool stages.

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Slipper suffers throughout, his face a dark storm under a Peaky Blinders cap, looking like he might shiv his upbeat teammates.

He gets the final word: “That’s something we’ll have to live with for the rest of our lives. We’re that team. We’re those players that got knocked out in the pool. It’s going to sting for a very, very long time. I’ve put in everything – it wasn’t from a lack of trying.”

Cattle or the cowboy?

Everyone who watches this will have their own lens – on Eddie, and the team, and where it all went so horribly wrong.

As someone who was on the ground, asking Eddie to explain decisions (such as the absurd drama over Will Skelton’s tournament ending injury), I found the documentary slightly frustrating. Others who watched the horror unfold through their fingers or from behind the couch might find a lot to like across the three hours.

There are moments of insight and new information – but not quite enough for me.

And the biggest scandal in Australian sport in 2023 – the Jones link with Japan and his subsequent departure – doesn’t get the time it deserves.

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Overall it feels more like a collection of Eddie’s more entertaining quotes – “they should be throwing baguettes, croissants at me” – than a serious assessment of an unfolding disaster.

The chat with Slipper teased that it could have been much more.

All three episodes of the brand new Stan Original Documentary Series The Wallabies, Inside Rugby World Cup 2023, premiere on February 22, only on Stan.  

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