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FEATURE Australia: 'Crocodile Eddie' backs instincts to regenerate Wallabies

Australia: 'Crocodile Eddie' backs instincts to regenerate Wallabies
10 months ago

In sport, genius and abstract scientist are sometimes separated by just a few degrees which is where Eddie Jones sits today with the Wallabies World Cup squad.

To say Australian rugby fans were stunned by the 33 names unveiled on Thursday is the biggest understatement since Crocodile Dundee’s iconic moment.

You know it… “That’s not a World Cup squad. THIS is a World Cup squad!”

“Crocodile Eddie” pulled out his own giant knife, sliced veterans Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper from Test rugby for good, put his faith in raw rookie fly-halves Carter Gordon and Ben Donaldson and anointed Will Skelton as captain from the clouds.

Skelton’s elevation is built on his winning DNA and his calm beacon qualities within the squad. His experience in French rugby with the La Rochelle club produced back-to-back European Champions Cups in 2022 and 2023, to add to the two earlier European crowns and two English Premierships claimed with Saracens, and the Super Rugby gong won with the Waratahs back in 2014.

In his first comments on selection, Jones re-emphasised his brief is to reconstruct Australian rugby and “part of that is changing the way the team is led”.

Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper
Neither Michael Hooper nor Quade Cooper have made Eddie Jones’ final 33-man Rugby World Cup squad. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

“He’s going to be well supported by (vice-captain) Tate (McDermott) and senior guys like ‘Slips’ (James Slipper), Nic White, Andrew Kellaway and Samu Kerevi,” said the coach.

Skelton’s trophy-laden CV?

“That’s definitely part of it. He’s a guy used to winning when a lot of the squad are not used to it,” Jones had earlier told Stan Sport. 

Lock Skelton admits himself he has little prior experience of captaincy and his style will be to lead with actions. He undervalues his words because you listen when he delivers with cool authority.

“I captained once, a Wallaby XV,” he recalled. “We had three days to prepare in 2016 in Bordeaux against the French Barbarians so I lack a lot of experience but I’m excited for the challenge.

“I want to see what this group can do. It’s very young, very enthusiastic and ambitious and we’re looking to make some headlines.”

It’s unlikely Skelton will be giving the rugby media the big headlines at the World Cup.

“I think he (Jones) will deal with the press conferences,” he said with a smile.

Skelton is the first New Zealand-born captain of the Wallabies since the late Greg Davis rose to the role in the 1960s and early 70s after being an All Blacks triallist.

Skelton is one of just eight Wallabies with previous World Cup experience.

Jones will now go bush in the remote Northern Territory with his squad for the next few days to bond over training, crocodile sightings, team-building challenges in the outback and World Cup goal-setting.

You have to admire Jones’ fearless intent to trigger change with calls such as Gordon over Cooper.

Boring? No way. A formula to win a sudden-death World Cup quarter-final against his old England chums or Michael Cheika’s Argentina? Who knows.

Jones said last week “we need to regenerate the team” when he picked McDermott as his fourth captain of the season for the Bledisloe Cup Test in Dunedin.

No-one realised the theme would be so widespread the Wallabies will send one of their least experienced squads to a World Cup.

You have to admire Jones’ fearless intent to trigger change with calls such as Gordon over Cooper, high-energy Fraser McReight taking over from Hooper and uncapped gambles, including half-back-winger Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, barn-door prop project Blake Schoupp and his backing of back-row find Tom Hooper.

Decorated former Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has been left out with a calf injury that might allow him to play in a few weeks. 

Young gun winger-fullback Max Jorgensen has been included when he is still weeks away from being fit to play after a long-term knee injury.

Jones has backed teenage Waratahs hotshot Max Jorgensen to shine in France despite a recent injury layoff. (Photo by Saeed KHAN / AFP via Gettys Images)

Draw your own conclusions there. He doesn’t turn 19 until next month but his x-factor is super-exciting and Jones is backing a Henry Arundell-style impact when unleashed.

Jones sees the bang Jordan Petaia can have at outside centre and the running threat that third-choice half-back Leleiwasa can be when Ryan Lonergan’s superior pass has been overlooked.

Jones definitely has strong themes to his selections apart from the youth revolution.

Any pack he picks will have ball-runners aplenty to challenge opponents.

His entire frontline back-row of Rob Valetini, McReight and Tom Hooper can carry the ball while props Taniela Tupou and Angus Bell will cart it up hard too.

There’s a big tick to that policy.

Eddie Jones called the team’s 0-4 start to the year a “pre-season”.

On the other hand, you have to wonder at all the play-making intel stripped from the squad by not having 35-year-old Cooper involved as a back-up to at least guide Gordon.

Gordon grabbed his chance to be the first choice at fly-half with two encouraging displays as a starter against the All Blacks.

He was the running option Cooper is not now he is more a quarterback directing play with his pass.

Gordon’s fierce tackling in the front line can make him a Test-match defender as good as Jonny Wilkinson, according to former England A back Shane Drahm, who coached Gordon at school. 

Cooper couldn’t produce a decisive cameo in the final 15 minutes in Dunedin last weekend when the Test was up for grabs. If he had, he’d be in this squad. Alas, there was a lost ball in a carry and a late knock-on after his excellent penalty goal to level the scores at 20-20.

“Quade’s come back from a major Achilles injury and has not been as sharp as he’d like to be,” Jones said.

He added the conversations he had to have with Hooper and Cooper were the tough side of his job.

“They are terrible phone calls.”

Jones has backed his noted ability to assess talent and how he pieces jigsaw pieces together as a team.

He called the team’s 0-4 start to the year a “pre-season”. The new-look Wallabies are not yet a team. Four pool games against Georgia, Fiji, Wales and Portugal will decide if they are.

“We competed for 20 minutes (in the first Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand). We dominated for 40 in the second. We have to build our capacity to play like that and with tactical discipline,” Jones went on.

The supremo has backed all his instincts to find a new generation. Wallabies fans everywhere are now waiting to see if it can click in a hurry on the biggest stage.

Comments

6 Comments
c
cs 307 days ago

Good read Jim.

D
Derek Murray 307 days ago

You say Quade isn't a running option, Jim. Do we have any details on metres run in the most recent RC per minute to compare he and Carter? I think Quade will be ahead.

I'm sick of excusing this garbage year of rugby from the Wallabies. We've been lied to by the coach as he changes his tactics and mind on a weekly basis.

For all the things this squad got wrong, I will remember that Tom Wright, who was encouraged to resign and stay to play for his country was overlooked an older, inferior project player and think it tells me everything I don't want to know about the culture Jones is building.

I will be in France and I will support the team but I hate what it being done to it right now.

F
Flankly 309 days ago

Eddie is good at tactical game plans. He is not just picking a team and letting them do their thing, but carefully reviewing the likely opponents, and then figuring out how to neutralize their strengths and exploit their weaknesses.

To do that he needs a team with good skills, good athletic conditioning, and the right attitude. We saw how that worked out in 2015 with Japan against the Boks. Lots to be said about that, but one observation is that Eddie did a lot without very many superstars.

I am expecting a lot from Australia at the RWC. They may need some luck and a following wind, and even then Eddie's dream of winning the tournament looks impossible. But the Wallabies are going to be a lot more competitive than they seemd to be in the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe series.

A
Al 309 days ago

Dreamer nothing but a dreamer

P
Peter 310 days ago

A stroke of genius or a man with few options clutching at straws?

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