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Why John Eales has urged Wallabies not to rush captaincy decision

Tate McDermott and Angus Bell of Australia look on during The Rugby Championship & Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australia Wallabies at Forsyth Barr Stadium on August 05, 2023 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

It is not important who captains the Wallabies to begin the Joe Schmidt era following the instability of Eddie Jones’ brief tenure as coach, legendary former skipper John Eales says.


Jones used six captains during an ill-fated 10 months back in charge of Australia that yielded two wins from nine Tests.

He named veterans Michael Hooper and James Slipper his co-captains for the first Test of the winter.

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But Hooper then controversially missed selection for the World Cup squad and has since transitioned to sevens rugby, while Slipper turns 35 in June.

Tate McDermott and Allan Alaalatoa had chances to captain, before Will Skelton was named skipper for the World Cup.

The role passed to player number six when hooker Dave Porecki needed to take over after Skelton picked up a calf injury during the group stage in France.

Schmidt appears likely to go for a younger captain to begin the new era.

Of the 2023 skippers, only McDermott is still in his 20s, while 23-year-old front-rower Angus Bell has also expressed interest in the role.


But Eales, arguably Australia’s greatest skipper, believes debating the captaincy is missing the point amid the Wallabies’ rebuild.

“The captain is probably less important than a lot of people make out, a lot of the time,” Eales, who won the World Cup with Australia in 1991 and 1999, told AAP.

“You’ve got to think about, ‘OK, what’s the system? How do we want to play the game? What’s the time we kick?’.

“And then you worry about who the captain is. The captain will generally emerge from that group of players.”


Eales said it was the responsibility of every player to take on leadership duties under Schmidt.

“Trying to create a culture where everyone is a leader is more important than thinking about who the captain is,” he said.

“In the teams I was a part of, I might’ve been the captain for a lot of those Wallaby teams but we had so many leaders.

“Sometimes they’re going to be people who are recognised internally and externally as leaders, but the only thing that’s really important is that they’re recognised internally as leaders.”

Eales said the Super Rugby Pacific season, beginning this week, would be crucial to setting the Wallabies up to begin the Schmidt era successfully.

Between them, the five Australian Super Rugby sides won only six of 30 games against their New Zealand counterparts in 2023, leading into the poor international season.

“With Super Rugby, if you’re not winning games it challenges your confidence,” Eales said.

“So being in a team that wins some games is important. It does make it easier to take that next step (to the Wallabies).

“The good news is there’s a lot of talent in Australian rugby at the moment and we’ve just got to harness it first at club level, then at Super Rugby level, then at Test level.”


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