Eddie Jones’ ‘high-risk’ decisions backfire as Australia slump out of World Cup

Australia made a shock exit from the Rugby World Cup. Photo: Olivier Chassingnole/AFP

Australia made a shock exit from the Rugby World Cup. Photo: Olivier Chassingnole/AFP

Published Oct 9, 2023


By Nick Mulvenney

Australians are among the most enthusiastic gamblers on the planet so it is perhaps no surprise the country's worst ever Rugby World Cup campaign was built on two high-stakes decisions.

The first in January by Rugby Australia supremo Hamish McLennan to sack Dave Rennie and bring back Eddie Jones as coach may yet, he hopes, pay dividends in the future.

The second by Jones to dump the experienced core of the squad and roll the dice on youth was an abject failure as the Wallabies, now ranked 10th in the world, bowed out of the World Cup in the pool stage for the first time.

"It didn't have to be like this," Bernard Foley, one of the experienced playmakers left out of the squad, posted on social media platform X after the devastating 40-6 loss to Wales which put the campaign on life support.

Fiji's bonus point in their loss to Portugal on Sunday night drove the final nail into the coffin and the Wallabies, who had stuck around for a week in France preparing for a quarter-final they were never likely to play, can now head home.

Jones has committed to seeing out his contract until the 2027 World Cup on home soil, if he is not sacked in the wake of a November review into the tournament by Rugby Australia. His reputation has been severely damaged over the last month, though, and it was Australian as well as French and Portuguese fans booing him every time his face was shown on the big screen in the final pool match, a win over Portugal.

That was in part by design as the 63-year-old clearly sought to hog the limelight with his public utterances and protect his young players from the flak over the implosion of the campaign.

Getting rugby some space on the back pages of Australian newspapers was the goal from the moment Jones returned home in January and promised Australia a third World Cup triumph in France.

It was barely credible then and sounded like the ramblings of a fantasist when Australia lost all five tests in the run-up to the tournament.

A third gamble, Jones's selection of talented rookie Carter Gordon as the only specialist flyhalf in his squad had been quickly exposed when the 22-year-old's goalkicking frailties forced the selection of Ben Donaldson at fullback to compensate.

Training injuries

A comfortable 35-15 opening win over Georgia raised spirits in the camp considerably, but calamity struck in the week before the second match against Fiji when captain Will Skelton and prop Taniela Tupou suffered injuries in training.

The hulking duo were key to Jones's plan of combining forward power with backline flair and, although not the only reason, the 22-15 loss to Fiji in Saint Etienne was followed by the 40-6 debacle against the Welsh in Lyon.

Rugby Australia know there are structural issues in the game that need to be sorted out and look likely to retain their trust in Jones as the man to take the Wallabies forward to the 2025 British & Irish Lions tour and the World Cup two years later.

Jones accepted that his gamble on youth was "high risk" but thought that, forged in fire, there was now the basis of a decent team that could compete with the big boys of the game again in the not too distant future.

"It's just a continuation of what we are doing," he said last week. "Work hard, be focused on developing an Australian style of rugby, players to take more individual responsibility, the leadership group to keep growing and in nine months' time we will be a different team."