Ben Donaldson
Ben Donaldson is a shock selection at fullback for the Wallabies' Rugby World Cup opener. Image by Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby union

Donaldson starts as Jones hails ‘Formula One’ Wallabies

Melissa Woods September 8, 2023

Previously likening his team to broken-down Datsun, coach Eddie Jones says the Wallabies are now Formula One-worthy as they count down to their Rugby World Cup opener against Georgia in Paris.

Jones continued his trend of selection shocks for the sold-out Stade de France pool clash on Saturday (Sunday AEST) by naming Ben Donaldson for his first Test start at fullback ahead of Andrew Kellaway.

Jones conceded he needed more goal-kicking options after first-choice Carter Gordon only booted one from five in their World Cup warm-up loss to France.

“Andrew is right for selection; just felt for this game Dono (Donaldson) gives us the coverage that we need,” Jones said in a Paris news conference.

“His (Donaldson’s) goal-kicking has been at a high standard which obviously gives us two kickers and with Nic White off the bench that’s three. It’s an area we’ve needed to bolster a little bit hence the selection.”

Back-line linchpin Samu Kerevi has recovered from a hand injury to return in the number 12 jersey alongside Jordan Petaia, with Mark Nawaqanitawase and Marika Koroibete the wingers and Gordon and Tate McDermott again paired in the halves.

Jones will look to NRL recruit Suliasi Vunivalu for some punch off the bench after he impressed against France.

The Wallabies forward pack is unchanged with tighthead prop Taniela Tupou playing his 50th Test and lock Will Skelton captaining the side.

Following their loss to Argentina in Sydney in July Jones likened the Wallabies to his first car, a Datsun 1200, and said how he’d fix one part only for another to break soon after.

But he said the team was now firing on all cylinders.

“We’re ready to go mate – F1 – whatever car you like in F1, the fast one, we’re just about ready to take off mate,” Jones said.

“We’re at the starting line now and everyone starts on the same spot now. 

“It’s been a really good progression. We went through a period where we had to almost restructure the team to get ourselves in a position where we think we can win the World Cup. 

“This is the first step against Georgia – a very important game.”

Australia haven’t won the William Webb Ellis trophy since 1999 and are looking to improve on a quarter-final showing in 2019 in Japan.

Vice-captain Tate McDermott said he wouldn’t be satisfied with anything other than a third World Cup title, with the Wallabies also winning in 1991.

“I’d say to go all the way,” said McDermott.

“We’re not here to scrape out of the pool stages. A pass mark, and it should be for all Australians, is that we’ve got to win it.”

With a total of 343 Test caps in the team and 17 World Cup debutants, it is the fewest for Australia at the quadrennial tournament since the 2003 fixture against Namibia in Adelaide (283).

Jones wasn’t bothered about caps and said it was the “best team” available to attempt to end a five-game losing streak.

“It’s 20 years since Australia’s picked a young team like this, and it shows a changing of the guard,” he said. 

“This is a new team that wants to take Australian rugby forward. We want to play a game that enthuses people in Australia to want to follow the Wallabies again.” 

Georgia named nine players, including captain Merab Sharikadze, who fell to the Wallabies 27-8 in a pool clash at the 2019 showpiece in Japan.

Wallabies: Angus Bell, David Porecki, Taniela Tupou, Richie Arnold, Will Skelton (c), Tom Hooper, Fraser McReight, Rob Valetini, Tate McDermott (vc), Carter Gordon, Marika Koroibete, Samu Kerevi, Jordan Petaia, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Ben Donaldson. Res: Matt Faessler, Blake Schoupp, Zane Nonggorr, Rob Leota, Langi Gleeson, Nic White, Lalakai Foketi, Suliasi Vunivalu.