Is this Eddie's last dance? - Andy Goode
Eddie Jones has won just two of his last 11 Tests as an international head coach and another defeat to Wales this weekend could, or at least should, spell the end of his coaching career.
That stark statistic includes just the very tail end of what was a major drop-off during his tenure as England boss and to lead not one but two of the pre-eminent nations in world rugby to such dire records shows something must be wrong.
Jones lost six Tests with England last year, as he did in 2018 as well, and he has lost six of his first seven in his second stint with the Wallabies. However you spin things in the media, you have to be judged on results as a head coach in elite sport and that isn’t good enough.
He might have signed a long-term deal through to 2027 in January and only just got his feet under the table but if he leads Australia to their first ever pool stage exit at a World Cup, I think he has to go.
Who knows if there is a performance-related clause in his contract or one inserted for the eventuality of a record early exit from a World Cup, or maybe he could be moved upstairs, but finances and an inability to admit they’ve made a mistake shouldn’t mean Australian Rugby’s hands are tied.
Of course, Jones will argue he’s building for the future but I think another defeat to Wales, on the back of the Wallabies getting the Rugby Championship wooden spoon for just the second time in 14 years, would mean they clearly have made a mistake.
Eddie himself was on record earlier this year saying he was “only coaching until this World Cup” so maybe there is a possibility that he and Australian Rugby could part ways.
“I’ve signed [until the end of 2027], but as I’ve made the mistake before, I’ve stayed too long. If we win the World Cup, it will be time to go. If we lose the World Cup, it will be time to go,” he added.
He and his employers were forced to clarify that he had a five-year deal and was in it for the long-haul in the aftermath of those comments but he added that “my only concentration is this Rugby World Cup, so I don’t think past that.”
The evidence doesn’t suggest this World Cup is his only focus and I’d actually go as far as to say he’s shown the tournament disrespect with his selection and some of his other comments.
“I don’t try to make myself out as a saint but sometimes you’ve got to take some hard decisions to get the results further down the track,” he said this week.
Nobody is trying to pretend that Australia were in brilliant shape when he arrived but they have got worse and the World Cup should be the absolute pinnacle and not somewhere to start a lengthy rebuilding job.
Both players entrusted with filling the jerseys they could’ve been wearing, Carter Gordon and Fraser McReight, have been ditched by Jones ahead of this Wales game in another sign that he’s got it wrong.
What the Wallabies need now more than ever is a bit of leadership and the calming presence of a guy like Cooper or Hooper who has been there and done it and neither seem to most people like they would have been a disruptive influence.
They would’ve spoken their minds though in a way that only an experienced player can and the call to exclude them, and name a 33-man squad where as many as 15 players have five caps or fewer to their name ahead of the tournament, smacks of not wanting to be challenged.
I remember in my career I was afraid to question coaches in my early days at Leicester and then exactly the same when I first broke into the England squad and you don’t feel you can completely be yourself.
Part of that is right as you have to earn your stripes but it changes as you begin to forge a career and certainly when you get to the level Cooper and Hooper are at but it’s Eddie’s way or the highway and he didn’t want players in there that would challenge him.
Surely Cooper could have offered Gordon the benefit of his experience during this tournament, as well as contributing on the field, but the 22-year-old has now been dumped by Jones after he not so long ago said he needed to be backed to the hilt.
We saw similar selection issues with England and you can see some other familiar issues with the Wallabies that we saw crop up again and again on these shores in terms of injuries and the situation with his assistant coaches.
It’s public knowledge how intense and demanding Jones is to work for and to see Brad Davis leave on the eve of the World Cup after just three months in the job of attack coach should have set alarm bells ringing once more.
Davis is a top coach and spent three years at each of London Irish, Ospreys and Wasps recently, as well as a seven-year stint at Bath, so he isn’t one to walk out on a job lightly and we obviously don’t know the reasons behind it but it’s happened to Jones before.
Max Jorgensen has broken his leg at training this week, which is horrible and could happen at any time, but massive players like Will Skelton and Taniela Tupou are also missing and we’ve seen injury blight Eddie’s time at England too.
All training is tough now at the very top level but I’ve seen first-hand how intense Jones’ training sessions are and when you hear the likes of Chris Ashton talk about how it was too much after he returned from France to pursue an international comeback, it’s fair to question whether that has contributed to the injuries.
Skelton and Tupou are arguably Australia’s two most important players, especially with Jones seemingly wanting to play a power game like he tried for much of his England reign, and you have to manage players like that carefully.
It isn’t immediately obviously how he’s trying to get the Wallabies to play but we saw 40 kicks in play from them against Georgia and another 29 against Fiji, another recurring theme from his time with England.
There was 40 minutes against a second-string All Blacks side in the second Bledisloe Cup game last month where you could see some shape in attack but the six and a half games have been mainly dross. I think you’d get more out of that playing group without him in charge.
Players have been kicking the life out of the ball and it’s anti-Australian rugby really because their identity or culture is to attack and show creativity. That kick first style goes against everything that’s in their DNA.
We know rugby union is struggling in Australia at the moment, with rugby league and Aussie rules more dominant than ever, and I think the ARU might have been seduced by his ability to work the media and get eyeballs on the sport rather than looking at his recent coaching record.
You have to say he does a good job of drawing attention to himself rather than his players and that has certainly been the case this week but it’s the Eddie Jones show again and it’s time to put up or shut up against Wales.
At 63-years-old, Jones is the oldest head coach at this World Cup and only his opposite number this weekend, Warren Gatland, has coached more games at the biggest tournament of all.
There’s no doubt he’s an autocratic figure and perhaps his leadership and coaching style isn’t effective any more in the modern game and with players nowadays, it’s certainly been a good few years since we’ve seen it get consistent results.
He’s been around the block and is the only man to lose two World Cup finals as a head coach so he’s seen a few big games but there’s no doubt this is among the biggest in his long coaching career.
Whether it will is another matter but if he loses and presides over the embarrassment of a first pool stage exit at the World Cup in Wallabies history, in a pool that has none of the top six teams in the world in it, I think it should be curtains for the good of Australian rugby.
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