Eddie Jones will win a World Cup with Australia, but not this one
In the wake of a challenging period under former coach Dave Rennie, Rugby Australia decided to take the Wallabies in a completely new direction by signing free agent Eddie Jones to a five-year deal in January.
Jones, who won the 2007 Rugby World Cup with the Springboks as a technical advisor, was supposed to be the messiah that Australian rugby so desperately needed. For a while, many Wallabies fans dared to dream.
With the World Cup in France nigh on the horizon, Jones made his presence felt before a ball was even kicked by an Australian player in the Test arena.
Jones almost singlehandedly reignited the fierce code war between rugby union and league. The coach spoke freely about his desire to lure NRL stars across to the 15-player game, and these comments poked the rugby league bear.
While Australian teams still struggled in Super Rugby Pacific against their Kiwi foes, it really felt like the Wallabies and Australian rugby were destined for a golden tomorrow.
But here we are, less than a month out from the 2023 World Cup, and things couldn’t have gone further off-script for the men in gold.
Playing under Jones, Australia started their international campaign with a disastrous 43-12 defeat to South Africa in Pretoria. Jones wasn’t happy, and neither were Aussie rugby fans.
But there was hope. It was one defeat – growing pains were always going to be a part of the job. The focus quickly shifted to a home Test against Argentina which the Wallabies were expected to win.
It was an improved performance, sure, but history will remember that night in Parramatta as another failure or shortcoming. The Wallabies lost a thriller 34-31.
As the adage goes, “New is always better.” If this is true, then the Wallabies are set for a brighter future.
It’ll come, just have faith.
Australia confirmed their World Cup squad on Thursday, which includes three uncapped players.
There are a total of 25 Wallabies who are set to make their World Cup debuts in France – that’s three-quarters of the squad, and that is nothing short of bizarre.
“We think the young players are the players that are going to take Australian rugby forward,” coach Jones told reporters on Thursday evening.
“This squad’s good enough to win this World Cup and possibly go on and win the next World Cup so that’s the advantage of picking young guys.
“They all deserve their opportunities, it’s not like we’re handing them the jersey on a platter.
“They’ll bring energy and a lot of ambition and enthusiasm to the team.”
Meanwhile, across the ditch, the All Blacks have just named their most experienced Rugby World Cup squad ever. France and Ireland are also set to field in-form squads on the biggest stage.
The Wallabies aren’t contenders, and deep down they must know that, but they’re building for the future and playing the long game.
All three of those players, among others, are set to play a key role in the Wallabies’ upcoming campaign in France. Jones knows what he’s doing – Eddie has a plan.
Experience can’t be bought – it must be earned, forged in the cauldron that is Test rugby. These players will be better for the opportunity.
Take Carter Gordon as an example. Jones compared the young gun to All Blacks pivot Richie Mo’unga after Bledisloe I.
“I’ve seen Richie Mo’unga play Tests like that,” Jones said after the 38-7 defeat.
Mo’unga has only just found his feet in Test rugby, and it’s taken more than 40 Test matches to get here. Gordon, all going to plan, will have played at least a similar number of Tests by the next World Cup.
That World Cup is on home soil, too.
The Wallabies will have a sea of gold in the crowd whenever they play at the 2027 Rugby World Cup. They’ll have a 16th player on their side whenever they charge into battle.
That makes a difference.
The now youthful Wallabies will be experienced campaigners, bordering on veteran status by 2027. They’ll be playing at home, too.
Why doubt them? With Jones at the helm, anything could happen with these factors in play.
There are also more superstars coming through the Super Rugby ranks or returning to rugby after being lost to the sport.
Sydney Roosters flyer Joseph Suaalii has signed a lucrative deal with Rugby Australia which will see him play for the Waratahs in Super Rugby Pacific.
It’s quite likely that Suaalii won’t be the only ‘leaguie’ to jump over, either.
Brisbane Broncos enforcer Payne Haas is back in the headlines with Rugby Australia lurking, and Jones has previously expressed his interest in Australian representatives Nathan Cleary and Cameron Murray.
If all of those players jump codes, or even just some of them, then the Wallabies will return to their former glory.
Jones would be able to get the most out of them, too – he helped Lote Tuqiri, Mat Rogers and Wendell Sailor jump codes before the ’03 World Cup – and ensure that they complement the established contingent of Wallabies as well.
Finally, the Junior Wallabies have found some form. They beat the Baby Blacks – the New Zealand U20s – in two of three matches this year. The one loss was by just a single point as well.
They could genuinely have a world-class squad by 2027. But expect them to be well off the pace in France, at least against the likes of New Zealand, Ireland, France and South Africa.
They’re on the ‘easier’ side of the draw, sure, but they’ll probably still face some of those aforementioned teams in the knockout stages. Their ceiling has a limit.
But the exposure of playing at a Rugby World Cup will be invaluable to some players on the rise, and Jones will continue to monitor and maximise their development in the years to come.
By the time their home World Cup rolls around in 2027, the Wallabies could very well be world-beaters.
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