Eddie Jones
The smile could be wiped off coach Eddie Jones should the Wallabies make an early World Cup exit. Image by PR HANDOUT IMAGE PHOTO
  • rugby union

Wallabies face tough World Cup road after Fiji loss

Melissa Woods September 20, 2023

Eddie Jones knew taking on the Wallabies’ job for a second time would be difficult but an early exit was surely never on the veteran coach’s World Cup bingo card.

A tournament specialist since his first World Cup in 2003, Jones’ plans have been been derailed, or at least forced into a detour, by the shock pool game loss to Fiji.

A seemingly favourable draw meant Jones had pictured the Wallabies arriving at the quarter-final stage fairly fresh, unlike their heavyweight rivals.

Defending champions South Africa face a torrid pool clash with world No.1 Ireland while New Zealand have already endured a thrashing from hosts France in pool A. 

Instead the Wallabies must put it all on the line in their pool match against unbeaten Wales in Lyon on Sunday (Monday AEST) to remain alive in the tournament.

Jones faced fierce criticism about his selection decisions, most notably leaving out long-time skipper Michael Hooper and veteran playmaker Quade Cooper, instead opting for the youngest squad of all 20 teams at the World Cup.

Jones told AAP he never expected an easy ride but felt he made the changes required for sustained success.

“I always thought it was going to be (hard),” said Jones, a tournament Asahi ambassador.

“I’ve been watching Australian rugby for however long I’ve been away and it’s increasingly got worse and worse.

“You alway hope you can go like that (click fingers) and things will change but you know you’re going to have to work really hard to change it.”

Taking over from dumped Test coach Dave Rennie in January, he said the Wallabies had to “fast-track” their preparation for France.

“We’ve basically been on the run for the whole time,” Jones said.

“We’re literally at the start of the cycle and that cycle is generally three or four years but we’re trying to get there in literally five months so we’re fast-tracking everything.”

Jones took the blame for the Fiji loss and said he would be held accountable for his bold selection calls and game-plan, as they were out-smarted by the Pacific islanders.

His master-plan of attacking off the back of a monster pack disintegrated with injuries to giant lock Will Skelton and powerhouse prop Taniela Tupou. 

But lock Richie Arnold said it was unfair and the players needed to take responsibility or face missing the play-offs for the first time.

“It comes down to the players,” Arnold said.

“We have to review the game hard individually and look at our own games as I think it’s down to the players at the end of the day.

“He (Jones) can prep us as best as possible but we’re the ones out there doing the job.”

The Fiji loss meant Jones was usurped by Warren Gatland as the most successful coach in World Cup history, with the Wales mentor now boasting 16 tournament victories after their win over Portugal.

With Michael Cheika at the helm at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, the Wallabies fell to Wales 29-25 in their pool game with Gatland steering the side to his second semi-final after reaching the same stage in 2011.

Australia were ousted by the Jones-coached England in the quarter-finals.

Like Jones, Gatland is in his second stint in the national role and the Wallabies boss said he could see changes since the Kiwi took over again in December last year.

He felt Wales would be a tough foe in Lyon.

“I think they’ve gone back to a traditional style of Welsh play,” said Jones.

“A lot of the play comes off (Dan) Biggar, the defence is improved and their lineout’s improved so there are some pretty big changes in there since Warren’s taken charge.

“They’ll be a tough team to beat.”