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FEATURE Eddie Jones isn't the main issue with the Wallabies coaching set-up

Eddie Jones isn't the main issue with the Wallabies coaching set-up
8 months ago

It seems like losing is the new winning. At least, that is what you would think if you listened to the words delivered by Wallabies head coach Eddie Jones, his assistants and the current players over the past couple of weeks. The need to create a positive vibe at all costs has led to some mutual back-scratching on an epic scale.

The comments of maul coach Pierre-Henry Broncan were typical. When asked after the debacle against Wales whether Jones was the right man to lead Australia forward after the World Cup finishes, the Frenchman had no apparent qualms:

“Yes, of course. I am sure about it because he is a great coach.

“I understand everything about it and I think in his head he wants now to find the best solution for the Australia national team and his country.

“He is the right person.”

Maul Consultant Pierre-Henry Broncan during the Australian Wallabies training session at Sanctuary Cove on June 29, 2023 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

His view was immediately supported by promising young Brumbies’ flanker Tom Hooper at the same press conference:

“I just think everyone is really happy Eddie is our coach at the moment. We have developed really well under him as a young team.

“He has had a hard task to take us forward. I have certainly gained a lot from being coached under him.

“Whoever the coach is going forwards, as a young team and as a playing group in Australia everyone is going to put in for whoever has the job and if that’s Eddie, that would be just as good.”

On-field outcomes are the only reliable litmus-test of the quality of the preparation going on behind the scenes.

The thread of reciprocal praise has been the same wherever you stoop to pick it up in the media labyrinth. Here is fullback Andrew Kellaway, singing from the same hymn-sheet, and extending the kudos to all the Wallabies coaching staff:

“Eddie has been great and the coaching staff fantastic, reminding us that we have another game to go here.

“A big pat on the back for them because they are probably hurting as much, if not more, than the rest of us. I cannot applaud them enough.”

The players have applied themselves and trained their hearts out, the coaches have all been fantastic, and Eddie Jones is a great visionary leader. You would be forgiven for wondering why, when it has really mattered, none of that has translated into performance out on the field.

On-field outcomes are the only reliable litmus-test of the quality of the preparation going on behind the scenes. That is why they are called ‘Test matches’. And on this score, Australia has failed miserably at the 2023 World Cup.

It is this evident disconnect between claims in the media and the reality played out on the field which should worry any true supporter of the Australian game. When he first took the job at the beginning of the year, Eddie Jones himself offered some checkpoints for measuring progress throughout the eight months leading to the World Cup.

Wallabies.
Rob Valetini of the Wallabies and team mates look dejected after losing The Rugby Championship & Bledisloe Cup match between the Australia Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks at Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 29, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

On New Zealand and the Bledisloe Cup: “We’re coming after them. We’ll be chasing them down the street.” Australia lost both matches by a combined score of 61-27.

On the importance of support coaching: “We’ve got to find the right level of coaching for the players so they give a bit more.” Jones did not hang on to any of Dave Rennie’s quality assistants, chief among them Laurie Fisher and Dan McKellar; and his former attack coach with England, Scott Wisemantel, wisely chose to keep his distance.

Instead, Jones enlisted a couple of ex-leaguers with limited union experience in the shape of Jason Ryles and Brett Hodgson, an ex-scrum-half and defence coach (Broncan) coaching the maul, and a scrum specialist (Dan Palmer) mentoring the lineout. His most experienced assistant (Brad Davis) left before the tournament started, and Davis was billed as an attack coach when his speciality is on the other side of the ball.

Even at the post-match press conference following Australia’s 34 points 14 win over Portugal, Eddie was still bullish: “I am pleased for the players. They have worked really hard – as they have all tournament – and they deserve some accolades for this performance today.”

So much for the latest instalment of the phoney war. Out on the field, it was Portugal who deserved most of the plaudits handed out at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. Despite conceding an obvious disadvantage in size and power to their tier-one opponents, they made 10 line-breaks to Australia’s six and ran for almost 1,000 metres in the game. If you were looking for creativity and positive energy on attack, your eye would have been drawn to the red jerseys, not the gold.

Defence is the first area in which the lack of an elite support staff has hurt the Wallabies. They have leaked an average of 30 points per game over Eddie Jones’ nine matches in charge so far, and those include two games against teams lying 13th and 16th in the world rankings.

Os Lobos exposed Brett Hodgson’s kick-chase defence throughout the game:

 

After Tate McDermott makes a long box kick down the left, all the Wallabies’ quicker players (left wing Marika Koroibete “1”, openside flanker Fraser McReight “2”, and centres Lalakai Foketi “3” and Izaia Perese “4”) are on the same side of the field. Two simple passes leave Os Lobos with an inviting zone of attack against Mark Nawaqanitawase, with just three tight forwards (Nick Frost, Richie Arnold and Angus Bell) for company on the far flank.

Frost had been hobbling for a few minutes before this and clearly could not raise a gallop in defence when the break is made. ‘Sloppy’ is not the word for it. Kick when your chase is organised, at least.

 

Another McDermott kick goes out just over the sideline, but there are only three chasers – from right to left Nawaqanitawase, Foketi and Koroibete – for Portugal to circumnavigate, and two passes plus a sidestep do the job with ease.

Now listen to the glowing reference Wallabies forwards coordinator Neal Hatley had given his tighthead prop Pone Fa’amausili before the Wales game:

“He is our most improved player. For a guy who didn’t start regularly for the Rebels, to doing what he’s doing at the moment – it’s phenomenal.

“His body’s changed, his whole attitude, his mindset how he approaches training.

“We can’t be more pleased with where he’s going and what’s ahead of him, not just this weekend but moving forward.”

In Super Rugby Pacific 2023, Fa’amausili was rated the third-best tighthead on the roster in Melbourne, behind both Sam Talakai and (probably) Cabous Eloff. After winning two scrum penalties against Wales in the first period with James Slipper at tighthead, Australia gave up three in the second with Fa’amausili on for the former captain.

Eddie Jones had previously said that his World Cup Wallabies would be selected on form – “If they’re at their best in Super Rugby then they’ll be in the Wallabies” – but it is hard to find the justification for the comments of either Jones or Hatley after watching the Portugal game:

 

 

In both scrums, one on the Australian feed and the other on the Portuguese – Fa’amausili is completely separated from his hooker and is forced to pop up from the set-piece in order to relieve the pressure. The first results in a turnover penalty, the second in the indignity of a pushover try. His opponent is neither Andrew Porter nor Stven Kitshoff, it is 38 year-old Francisco Fernandes, who plies his trade in the second division of French rugby with AS Béziers.

Likewise, Broncan had promised to redefine the Australian maul:

“We need to reinforce our maul for sure. We need to improve every day. We need to change the mindset of the Aussies, because it [the lineout drive] is a very important thing, a very important part of the game.”

Without Will Skelton, the Wallabies maul defence fell to pieces against Wales and it did not show much improvement against Portugal:

 

 

The first rule of a successful maul defence is to know where the ball is, at all times, but the Wallabies ‘policeman’ at the top of the drive (Richie Arnold) allows himself to be bypassed by a quick shift of the ball away from the first point of contact.

In the first example, the Portuguese are able to create an inviting three-on-two on the short-side as the drive breaks up; in the second clip, they were unlucky not to be a awarded a penalty try after Arnold committed to the wrong spot for a second time and a defensive infringement prevented Os Lobos from grounding the ball successfully.

The dust has not yet cleared from the nuclear fall-out of Australia’s hapless defeat against Warren Gatland’s Wales. In their final pool game against Portugal, the Wallabies looked both far less confident and far less inventive than their tier-two opponents.

Nobody knows yet whether Eddie Jones will be invited to continue as coach of Australia after the tournament, or even whether he still wants to do the job for another four years. Whatever happens, all the crazy talk must stop. All the mutual back-scratching, all the soundbites about how well everyone is performing in a succession of losing causes.

If Eddie Jones is to be confirmed as king by Rugby Australia for a second time in 10 months, the bare minimum requirement must be that he provides proof-positive that he can recruit a top-drawer coaching support team around him. Specialists – top people in the right slots, who will see out the duration of the next World Cup cycle in its entirety.

At the start of his tenure, Jones stated “I am not the messiah. We are all in this together – sometimes you need somebody to beat the drum to make you walk a bit faster.”

If that is really the case, Eddie Jones needs to empower coaches of proven quality and spread the burden of responsibility. Otherwise, it will all turn Monty Python, and Eddie Jones will not be the rugby messiah at all. He will just be a very naughty boy, always promising what he cannot deliver.

Comments

119 Comments
j
john 250 days ago

I'm a bit late to this but been flat out.

The bottom line is that Eddie chose to put the two worst players in the Wallaby squad, Porecki and Donaldson in the two most important positions in the team. Captain and 10 because they were Tahs.

Any coach that does not care about destroying the teams morale like that deserves to be punted but the Tahs will hang on to him for dear life, while taking Australian rugby down with them. The crowds will crash even further. Bankruptcy is inevitable if they don't get rid of Eddie. He has betrayed the rest of the country.

J
Jaco 253 days ago

Thanks Nick.
If not Eddie, then who? The Farrell grade is thinly sowed

M
Melinda 254 days ago

Wonderful insight into the Wallabies plight. I recall the beauty of the Brumbies maul, under the guidance of Fisher and McKeller; something to behold!

D
Derek Murray 254 days ago

This reflects about how I feel. One needs to wonder whether no effort was made to keep the team in place under Rennie, whether none of them wanted to be a part of a Jones team, or whether Eddie actively pushed them away. I suspect all could be true.

If we asked to feel sympathy for Eddie and the short time he had to build a team with which to work, it is worth considering that Gatland, Borthwick and Raiwalui all largely got the teams they wanted with either the same or less time with which to work - who'd have thought pi55ing people off didn't help when looking to build teams at short notice.

It's also worth considering the rugby IQ jettisoned from the playing group by Eddie. I refuse to believe some of the senior statesmen left at home wouldn't have helped with the basic errors made by the crew selected.

M
Mitch 254 days ago

One platitude you left out was Hamish regularly referencing Eddie taking 3 different countries to a World Cup final when a more accurate comment would be that he has been head coach of 2 different countries in a World Cup final and helped another country win a World Cup as a technical advisor. I feel like the 'Hammer' does Jake White a bit of disservice when speaks about Eddie taking 3 countries to a World Cup final.

England's scrum fell apart in the 2019 World Cup final. Eddie aims to rectify this by bringing Matt Proudfoot and yet in Eddie's last game in charge of England, their scrum was a problem. In Eddie's 2nd last game in charge of Australia first time around, the scrum disintegrated and on the weekend Pone had his issues and as you say he wasn't exactly packing down at against Steven Kitshoff or Andrew Porter.

Eddie's been coaching at the top level for a long, long time and hasn't cottoned on the idea by the age of 63 that you need a strong set-piece to flourish at this level. The unfortunate irony of course being that he was a hooker in his playing days.

M
Mzilikazi 254 days ago

What a sad article to be writing, Nick. When hearing the shocking news that Jones was to be the head coach of the WB's, and that Dave Rennie had been sacked, I felt dread in my heart. And as so often happens' the "herd" thundered through the barbed wire, lacerations ignored, and crowded around Jones, happily swallowing the grass he said was green all around, ignoring the fact it was pretty wilted yellow stuff.

And so it continued, promises upon promises, self adulation, rants at the press. And some writers on a certain site you used to write for threw more and more increasingly sub standard fodder in to the milling "herd".

Tom Hooper: “I just think everyone is really happy Eddie is our coach at the moment. We have developed really well under him as a young team.

“He has had a hard task to take us forward. I have certainly gained a lot from being coached under him."

I read this and other such comments from WB players and coaches, and wonder when the boy with his finger in the dyke will begin to lose the battle, and the trickle of water breaks through, and the dyke is in time swept away in a rush of recriminations...."a truth telling" to use the phrase of the age we live in.

As always, we all get so much out of your game analysis Nick, on top of the other gems in the article. I think the volume of comments will only swell as so many come to value your work. For those of us who have read you for many years, is a great solace to still be able to follow you.

B
Broken Shoulder 254 days ago

Thanks, Nick. Cannot even begin to describe my anger, frustration, despondency at this entire situation. And I have little to no faith that Hamish and/or Eddie will drag us out of this mess. Just looking at that list of coaches and their assigned roles…you shake your head at it. As Bernard Foley said “it didn’t have to be like this.”

Not sure where we go from here with mounting debt and no clear direction or plan from the top. I feel like Vito Corleone in The Godfather as I stare down at my Wallabies “look how they massacred my boy”.

j
john 254 days ago

This is a great article. And in digesting its contents & thinking of the implications for Rugby in Australia, I can’t help but feel more than a little aggravated that those charged w the game’s care & development could hv allowed the legacy of Campese, NF Jones & John Eales could let it come to this!

s
sam 254 days ago

This is an absolutely awesome article Nick! Would love to see more of these!

C
Chris 254 days ago

Jones is a disaster for Australian rugby
Who appointed these fools from mungo land?
Jones

Go away and never come back!

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