Little good can be said about the Wallabies’ 40-6 loss to Wales on Sunday at the Rugby World Cup. It was abysmal and embarrassing for a nation like Australia with such a revered rugby union history. But it shouldn’t spell the end for Eddie Jones.
Headlines Down Under on Monday called for the former England head coach to turn the lights off and take the other bigwigs with him when he left, following on from what could be Australia’s worst ever Rugby World Cup result.
But you don’t employ a maverick like Jones for a quick fix; he is a project coach.
When Steve Borthwick was parachuted in to replace Jones at Twickenham, he chose to largely stick by the same group of players knowing that many of them will not be at the 2027 World Cup, the tournament hosted in Australia that Borthwick and England will be targeting.
Jones, on the other hand, dumped the likes of former captain Michael Hooper and playmaking No10 Quade Cooper from his squad in favour of younger, riskier options.
And it has backfired. Australia have looked devoid of experience against Fiji and Wales in France and they’re left with a match against Portugal to salvage their dignity.
But come 2027, when the eyes of a nation will be on hosts Australia, that’s when Jones’s choices over the last few weeks could come into their own. The hurt being felt now can fuel the desire.
Wallaby legend Matt Giteau yesterday said: “I am still in shock about the result yesterday. Players tried hard but missed some seniority in there badly. A brutal learning curve for this young playing group.”
And he is right, a number of the youngsters who had to take in Sunday’s Welsh dominance will remember how that felt for a number of years. It won’t go away.
Jones has used that kind of emotion in the past to improve sides. He exceeded expectations by leading Japan to three wins at a Rugby World Cup for the first time in their history, laying the foundations for their quarter-final appearance on home soil four years later.
And with England, against the odds, he took them past the mighty All Blacks of New Zealand and into the final in 2019.
He thrives on that pressure and is a master deflector – there’s nothing his players will appreciate more now than their boss taking the flak. No one is looking at how Australia played at the moment, everyone is looking at Jones and his “failures”.
That’s why the Australian deserves some respect on his name. He started from a lower base than Wales and England did, and while his side have been humiliatingly dumped out of the World Cup, he’s become the guard dog of the Wallabies, protecting his team from the outside world.
But leave the rugby and outward facing pain to one side and take Jones at face value.
He is one of the few people in the sport with a spark of personality, he keeps everyone on their toes – for better or worse – and has an aura that remains so interesting and captivating.
Jones has been causing trouble, playing the press and taking stick for more than 20 years and he remains a master at doing it.
In a sport that is so desperately looking for faces, names and controversy to keep it relevant 24/7, Jones is more of an advantage than a hindrance.
Jones will continue being slated into the coming weeks, and he very may well leave his job – by his or someone else’s command – but the sport should be careful to dismiss a masterful coach with a masterful personality who makes the circus of rugby ever more enjoyable.