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Why Eddie Jones' honeymoon period will dissipate fast

By Ben Smith
(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images and David Rogers/Getty Images)

New Wallabies head coach Eddie Jones has five Tests to find answers with his new team ahead of this year’s Rugby World Cup after a shock move by Rugby Australia to re-employ the former head coach and axe Dave Rennie.

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To say time is of the essence is an understatement, but the good news is the Wallabies will play three of the top four sides in those five Tests, along with a much-improved Argentina who possess a strong defence that stumped England, New Zealand and Australia in 2022.

The strength of the schedule gives Jones enough to get a gauge from, but the real risk is that Australia’s World Cup campaign ends before it starts with confidence in tatters by the end of this run.

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Eddie Jones first challenge is a trip to South Africa to face the Springboks at Loftus Versfield which will be an early wake-up call for the new coach.

Under Rennie the Wallabies won three of four tests over the World Cup holders, but Australia does not have a good track record of success in South Africa.

Just 10 victories in 47 Tests in South Africa show how difficult this plight has been, with the last win there over a decade ago in 2011. Most of this generation of players haven’t played a Test there yet.

Jones’ new Wallabies outfit will likely be crushed in Pretoria in their first Test with a lack of time to get a cohesive plan together against what will be a good Springbok team, dampening expectations and ending the honeymoon period with the enamoured Australian coach very quickly.

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They will then return to Australia for a must-win game against the Pumas, because if they lose it, things start to look grim with back-to-back Bledisloe Tests against the All Blacks.

If they get tipped over by Los Pumas, there is a very real chance that Australia end up winless over Jones’ first four Tests in charge, with a pre-World Cup date with the world’s best team, France, remaining.

The best case scenario for Jones is holding court by beating Argentina and New Zealand at home with two wins from four to maintain any confidence ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

A disastrous donut from their first five Tests would be the nail in the coffin for their World Cup hopes before the plane even touches down in France. The Wallabies will not come back from that to achieve anything more than a quarter-final appearance at best.

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One the flip side, the domino-effect of winning back the Bledisloe Cup would be a strong catalyst for a successful World Cup run, which only furthers how important the first five Tests are for Jones.

Obsession with the World Cup before the World Cup will sink Jones’ ship if he does not have a half-decent Rugby Championship this year.

Jones’ first order of business is too quickly sort out his supporting staff which will be more integral to his success than most realise.

The Wallabies do not have an attack coach after Scott Wisemantel’s departure, while he must decide whether to retain Brumbies pair Dan McKellar and Laurie Fisher from the end of the Rennie era.

When England had experienced and quality assistants under Jones, like new head coach Steve Borthwick, John Mitchell and Wisemantel, they were successful. When he lost good assistants, the team went through periods of ineptness, including the final two years of his tenure and his 2018 Six Nations campaign.

His success with England was built on a generational Saracens club team and quality assistant coaches, without which the Emperor had no clothes. See the final two years of his time in charge for confirmation of that.

The 62-year-old has a history of seeking new perspectives all the time from coaches outside rugby, which is a decent approach to continue to grow and evolve.

However, he has made appointments in this fashion with no logical reason behind them, with limited track records of success to back up the risk involved. His last defence coach with England, Anthony Seibold, took the Brisbane Broncos to their first-ever wooden spoon in the NRL and had a porous defensive record.

Just who he will be able to recruit to his coaching team at short notice remains to be seen.

The other big question is whether the Wallabies have the playing base to deliver a World Cup for Jones.

In 2003 they had the backbone of a successful Brumbies side, many who had been coached by Jones at the club for years and won Super Rugby titles, plus the addition of superstar backs from the NRL in Lote Tuqiri, Mat Rogers and Wendell Sailor, when they probably didn’t even need them.

This is nowhere near the same situation twenty years later.

Australia does not have a championship-calibre Super Rugby team to call on that has proven itself to be a cut above their New Zealand counterparts, and Rugby Australia hasn’t landed an NRL megastar of that calibre since Israel Folau.

However, there is one hand left for Rugby Australia to play to help improve this situation.

Under Rennie the Wallabies moved to a three-player quota of overseas-based players to help overcome the shortcomings at home. If Jones can convince Rugby Australia to open that rule up further, much like South Africa did for Rassie Erasmus in 2018, then he can improve his playing base.

If Jones has the option to pick the likes of Will Skelton, Rory Arnold and Sean McMahon up front as well as the likes of Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete and Quade Cooper in his backline, the Wallabies will undoubtably be stronger.

South Africa’s rule change has not weakened their domestic teams, with most of the clubs now flourishing in the United Rugby Championship and in Europe.

With overseas stars still committed to the Springboks cause, it has pulled some of them home for the World Cup year in order to best manage their playing time.

The Wallabies have had some former Test players return home to Super Rugby clubs this year, but arguably none of the top tier players they would have hoped for.

Jesse Mogg and Chris Feauai-Sautia are at the Brumbies along with uncapped flyhalf Jack Debreczini, while the Waratahs have seen Kurtley Beale and Tolu Latu return.

If Rugby Australia are relying on Jones’ resume to catapult them to an unlikely World Cup win at the 11th hour, they really have made a foolhardy deal.

Jones tendency to focus in on ambushing a target has continually failed to account for the next one.

When his brilliant Wallabies stunned the All Blacks in the semi-final in 2003, they were pipped in extra-time in the final by England.

His 2015 masterpiece pool stage win over the Springboks was followed up by a 45-10 defeat at the hands of Scotland which left Japan missing out on quarter-final qualification.

The 2019 semi-final win over the All Blacks, which he said included two years of planning for, was undone by a World Cup final against the fresher Springboks.

Despite the genius involved and the romanticism around the one-off scalps, those love stories ended with heartbreak every time.

Given the state of Australian Rugby compared to 20 years ago, Jones will have to perform magic to get three tier one wins in a row, which has already alluded the coach with far better sides in the past.

Given the track record of Rugby Australia’s board churn and burn approach with coaches, don’t be surprised to see Jones gone following the Lions series.

This nostaligic reunion with slick marketing will be great for the game’s exposure in Australia but could just as easily end in the same way as Rennie in three years time.

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