Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global

FEATURE Eddie Jones is rolling the dice in search of World Cup glory

Eddie Jones is rolling the dice in search of World Cup glory
11 months ago

You don’t find many rugby gems from a country ranked No 84 in the world. Eddie Jones is counting on finding his second from Papua New Guinea.

You’ll read more about 125kg tighthead prop Zane Nonggorr but just about no one has a track on this fascinating Wallabies rookie.

Jones has picked his first Wallabies team in 18 years to play South Africa at their Pretoria stronghold on Saturday. In selecting four debutants, he has lived up to his billing as the coach who searches everywhere for a speck of gold.

He just loves the big motor, work-rate and aggression inside new No 6 Tom Hooper. The kid from the ACT Brumbies is a hefty 1.99m at only 22. The instant measure on Saturday is going up against South Africa’s World Cup-winning trumpcard Pieter-Steph du Toit.

From the bench, Test debuts are coming for the untried Nonggorr, towering Richie Arnold, after his impressive lock form for Toulouse, and young, mullet-wearing flyhalf Carter Gordon.

Carter Gordon is set to make his Test debut off the pine against the Springboks. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

Focus too much on these new players and some will miss what Jones always does: he has the bases and basics covered.

Jones has picked a team which can kick at high altitude, a pack with some teeth, a balanced back row, gambled on some new energy figures and picked a bench with some real impact.

To compete against the Boks and even dominate them, he knows what is required from his pack.

“You have to meet fire with fire and when the opportunity is there to play quicker, we’ll play quicker,” Jones said.

He’s got 148kg Will Skelton and super sub Richie Arnold to add mongrel that wasn’t always obvious in the Dave Rennie era.

You’re playing at high altitude. You can’t let yourself get kicked off the park like Morne Steyn and others have done down the years.

Nick Frost, Tom Hooper and Rob Valetini are legitimate lineout winners with Arnold as backup.

You’re playing at high altitude. You can’t let yourself get kicked off the park like Morne Steyn and others have done down the years.

Utility Reece Hodge fits only a fairly straightforward role at inside centre but he has the biggest boot in the country. A place has been found for the backline merchant and he can tackle and run straight in a position where his experience will count. A reasoned selection.

At various times, Suliasi Vunivalu hasn’t even looked like one of Australia’s top six wingers.

Jones is backing himself to work some magic here on the code convert from rugby league who has been slower than most to pick up the game. He’s talked up all of Vunivalu’s attributes from the moment he became coach.

“He’s strong in the air, he’s a big guy, he’s got good pace, he started to develop some really good habits in Super Rugby Pacific and he’s got better every session with us,” Jones waxed in Pretoria.

The somewhat out-of-form Suliasi Vunicalu is a surprise selection on the right wing. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Vunivalu did improve for the Queensland Reds this season but he’s still the 1.92m guy who can go missing for 30 minutes by just sitting on his wing waiting.

Jones knows there is a big upside if he can get Vunivalu to click and giving him the coach’s confidence is a big part of it.

Regardless, it’s a well-selected team.

That core of experience is there to steer the team with halfback Nic White (59 Tests), flyhalf Quade Cooper (76) and Hodge (62) giving the midfield the composure of nearly 200 Tests in total.

Michael Hooper (124 Tests) and James Slipper (127), if his knee proves sturdy, will lead in the new co-captaincy model.

What ‘understrength’ Boks side stills throws props Frans Malherbe, Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch at you?

The Springboks, meanwhile, have done Jones something of a favour by not selecting their top side for Saturday’s Test.

It’s always a tired old theory isn’t it? Understrength South Africa?

But what ‘understrength’ Boks side stills throws props Frans Malherbe, Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch at you? Or fellow World Cup-winners Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Bongi Mbonambi, Willie le Roux, Lukhanyo Am and the always-angry RG Snyman?

Any Springbok playing in South Africa rises to the challenge. The Wallabies have a 0-7 record in Pretoria but it’s not the landslide number of losses that is most significant but the Tests that were bungled.

The Wallabies blew a 14-0 lead in 2010 and scored the only try in a careless 18-10 loss in 2016. They were both careless losses in South Africa – and carelessness will cost you a World Cup spot in the Jones era.

Back to Nonggorr. You hear rivals and coaches talk of hard bodies.

Zane Nonggorr in action for the Reds. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

There’s a bit of cement about Nonggorr even at 22.

He’s not yet 80 minutes of good scrums but his good scrums are worth backing.

The prop is proudly from Papua New Guinea just as Wallabies legend Will Genia was before him.

Jones discovered Genia back in late 2006 and picked that sharp pass for the Queensland Reds before he’d even played a first grade game.

“Willy is the one PNG person you think of when it comes to rugby. It’s a good feeling to be waving the flag,” Nonggorr told RugbyPass.

Eddie Jones is rolling the dice, as he must, on a few positions in this opening Test of 2023.

Giant tighthead Taniela Tupou might still be on the comeback trail but he’s done some valuable mentoring of Nonggorr this year.

“He’s passed on a lot about the mentality of scrummaging…every scrum has to be your best scrum. Even when you get in a bad position, you’ve got to be working hard to make sure the scrum doesn’t go backwards,” Nonggorr said.

“It’s good to hear that stuff from one of Australia’s best props.”

Three generations of the Nonggorr family live together on Queensland’s Gold Coast, his home since his early years at Mount Hagen in the PNG highlands.

“Grandma is 92. When I first came to Brisbane as a 10-year-old, she was the one who drove me to and from my early rugby games. I’m grateful,” Nonggorr said.

His schooling was at the famed rugby nursery, The Southport School, which counts Slipper, Nathan Sharpe and Rob Simmons as recent Wallabies.

James Slipper Wallabies
Wallabies co-captain James Slipper hails from the same school as Zane Nonggorr. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Eddie Jones is rolling the dice, as he must, on a few positions in this opening Test of 2023.

Hooper is the No 6 that the Wallabies desperately need long-term, a missing piece. He’s a worker whereas Rob Leota, on the road back from a snapped Achilles, is more like six bursts of impact in an hour.

Hodge is merely keeping the No 12 jersey warm for Samu Kerevi’s imminent return while Arnold can create a Test career he never thought he’d have if he shows some promise in this.

There is a void below Cooper, 35, and Bernard Foley, 33, in the playmaking ranks. In Gordon, 22, there could be a glimpse of Australia’s next 50-Test No 10.

Jones blooded eight new Wallabies in the 12 months before Australia played in the 2003 World Cup final. Lote Tuqiri and Matt Giteau were the two big pay days.

All his fresh selections in 2023 won’t pay off. He doesn’t need them to. Just finding two or three and building the Wallabies mentality for an 80-minute scrap will go a long way.


Flankly 345 days ago

Agree on good selections. But the Bok selections are very strong. This will be a tactical battle, not a comparison of resumes.

Big A 345 days ago

Great article - in Eddy we trust - I spent an hour, earlier this arvo, fast replaying the Reds games against Chiefs, Blues, Highlanders, Drua and stopping at the scrums to do some reconnaissance on Zane - solid as rock especially for a 22 year old on his debut season - pleasantly surprised by what I saw - 90% of the scrums were rock solid - big tick - we might be onto something with Zane - he looks abit like the Hulk - Lou Ferigno - hoping he turns green later tonight - all the best to him - we need one of the reserve props to step up - I think he might be the one

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free