The Wallabies need to give Australia a reason to believe again
Make no mistake, the Wallabies’ upcoming World Cup showdown with Wales is worth much more than bragging rights and national pride. This is one of the most important tests in Australian rugby history.
Flyhalf Ben Donaldson and the other 22 players selected by coach Eddie Jones have a date with destiny on Sunday, and the success or failure of the evening will hang over the Wallabies for years.
Australia are on the cusp of a once unfathomable pool stage exit. The Wallabies need to beat the Welsh in Lyon to avoid catastrophic disaster, and even then it might not be enough.
This Wallabies team is capable of something special, sure, but their form is a sight for sore eyes. If winning is a habit, then the Aussies are up against it.
When the full-time siren sounded at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne last weekend, many of the Wallabies dropped their heads in disappointment after losing to Fiji.
As for their opponents, Captain Waisea Nayacalevu fell to the ground in triumph and celebration as the Pacific Island nation kept its World Cup campaign alive with a historic victory.
With the world watching, the Flying Fijians had beaten Australia for the first time since 1954. The “wounded” Wallabies had fallen to a staggering sixth loss from seven Tests under coach Jones.
In the wake of the defeat, grey clouds filled the sky as thunder and lightning illuminated Saint-Etienne that night – but a ray of sunshine pierced through the clouds on Monday morning.
Both events were symbolic of the state of Australian rugby. That ray of sunshine, much like the upcoming clash with Wales, offers the Wallabies and their supporters a sense of hope.
“We’re alive. All you’ve got to be is alive, and if we beat Wales on Sunday we’re alive,” Jones told reporters in Lyon on Friday.
“We were always going to get this game at some stage. It’s come a little bit earlier than we thought it would, so we’ve got an opportunity to show on Sunday whether we can fight and get the result we need to get. I’m confident we can.”
Some Australian rugby fans will struggle to look through the grey and towards a brighter tomorrow, while others are filled with an all-too-familiar sense of unwavering optimism.
But either way, coach Jones and the Wallabies are “confident” that they can get the job done against the Welsh. It’s utterly essential that they do, too.
Australian rugby is at a crossroads. The stakes have never been so high.
Rugby Australia made the bold decision in January to replace former coach Dave Rennie with Eddie Jones. The Wallabies had won five of 14 tests under Rennie in 2022 and appeared to be in desperate need of change.
Rennie was axed and likely paid out on a big-money deal. As for Jones, who had been sacked by the RFU just one month earlier, the incoming coach inked a staggering five-year deal with Rugby Australia.
“Things would be different under Eddie,” many fans likely thought. This was widely considered to be a positive change. Australia had one of the greatest coaches of all time at the helm of a golden generation.
The headline-grabbing decision to lure Jones back to Australia was intriguing, and the legendary coach was quickly built up to be the messiah that the Wallabies so desperately needed.
But the Wallabies didn’t just stagnate, they’ve gotten worse – at least going off their win-loss record. Australia have lost 85 per cent of their tests under Jones this year, and that could increase on Sunday.
“(The) biggest thing I’m worried about this weekend as a Brisbane footy fan is that we are so distracted by the Broncos and Lions that one of the biggest fails in Australian sport is happening right under our noses and we’re missing it, or worse still, it’s happening and we don’t care,” Ben Davis said on SENQ693.
“Who has destroyed Australian rugby? Eddie Jones in his second coming was pronounced the messiah but all I’ve seen since then is a mess.
“For the first time since 1954, we have been beaten by Fiji. The Wallabies used to be our flagship footy team on the international stage… but not anymore. Who’s destroyed Australian rugby?
“I don’t think it’s Eddie Jones, he’s just inherited the mess. So, what’s happened along the way?
“When Eddie started, he was all fun and entertaining and was positive to start with, he was talking the talk but he’s not walking the walk, not now. They’re booing him in the land of baguettes but they’re also laughing at him across the channel in England.
“Maybe it was just an off night for the Wallabies. 18 penalties against Fiji – we handed them 15 free points. 15 points in a scoreline that read 22-15.
“Now we’ve got to play the world number seven team. They’re actually higher Wales than Fiji… we’ve got to play Wales to survive at the World Cup.
“The question begs: who destroyed Australian rugby?”
They’re strong words, fighting words even from Queensland-based sports reporter Ben Davis. Davis’s monologue paints both an irritating and saddening picture for the Wallabies.
Suggesting that coach Jones has simply “inherited the mess” would be a tough opinion for Wallabies fans to make peace with. Win, lose or draw, questions will be asked of coach Jones in the days, weeks and months after Australia’s World Cup campaign comes to a close.
But Davis suggests that Jones may be safe by diverting the blame, and that may leave supporters feeling stuck. If Eddie is to stick around, why should they believe that he can turn things around?
While the following statement may not fill fans with hope or assurance that they’re so desperately seeking, it’s the truth: Jones is safe. Any arguments suggesting otherwise are likely a moot point.
Dave Rennie struggled with Australia, and Jones has done the same. The Wallabies have shown nothing that suggests that another coach could instantly turn them into winners.
Also, who would they bring in? Rennie isn’t coming back, Les Kiss has signed with the Reds – only Stephen Larkham would make sense, but even then, it’d be a big step up for the former Wallaby.
Following the fall of Rennie, who again probably received a tasty payout, it would likely cost Rugby Australia too much to pay out Jones’ five-year deal as well.
With Sydney Roosters flyer Joseph Suaalii coming on a lucrative $1.6 million per year deal, RA just wouldn’t have the funds to pay all three so handsomely – especially if Suaalii was the only one actually contributing moving forward.
Jones has walked into every press conference this year with a smile on his face, but after the defeat to Fiji, that was the first time this journalist saw fear in his eyes. Reality came knocking, but Jones can have the last laugh against Wales.
From an Aussie point of view, it feels essential that Jones and the more than capable Wallabies give their loyal supporters something to believe in this weekend.
Otherwise, Australia supporters may feel lost with a coach who, at best, would finish the year with two wins from nine tests and a pool stage exit.
This would have a domino effect as NRL stars probably wouldn’t bother to jump codes, and the hype, passion and vibrance ahead of a massive six years would take a hit.
The British and Irish Lions are coming to town in two years, and then there’s the men’s and women’s World Cups on home soil in 2027 and 2029.
Australian sports fans love to support winners. It’s in their nature.
The sporting nation got behind the Matildas during the FIFA Women’s World Cup last month, and Queenslanders have rallied behind both the Broncos and Lions who are en route to the NRL and AFL Grand Finals.
When city, state or national pride is on the line, winning is all that matters. Losing to Wales is a burden that the Wallabies and Australian rugby can’t possibly prepare to bear.
The stakes have never been so high ahead of one of the Wallabies’ biggest tests in history.
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