IAN HERBERT: Eddie Jones falls victim to his hunger for chaos

IAN HERBERT: Eddie Jones falls victim to his hunger for chaos, with Australia showing no leaders as they wilt to a heavy defeat at the hands of Wales

  • Australia crumbled to a 40-6 defeat to Wales in Lyon on Sunday night
  • Reports revealed Eddie Jones was already looking to be head coach of Japan
  • The notion of Jones leading an effort to build Australian rugby up seems risible
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

Eddie Jones has always liked to employ a chaos theory – going into a new job like an Exocet and looking for results by wreaking holy hell – but it was a different kind of bedlam he was creating ahead of this moment of truth for Australia.

The build-up to the match was to include a late afternoon speech from the Australian sports minister, Anika Wells, discussing the nation’s big plans as hosts of the next Rugby World Cup, at a fans’ gathering place called Wallabies House, near the banks of the Rhone.

But after revelations in Sunday’s Sydney Morning Herald that Jones is already looking for an exit strategy – the newspaper and others claimed he has applied for the head coaching role with Japan and took part in a Zoom interview on August 25 – no-one was much interested in the minister. Instead, in full view of the fans who had gathered for beers in the sunshine, Australia Rugby’s chief executive Phil Waugh underwent the indignity of an inquisition at the hands of an Aussie press corps.

Waugh answered everything, sweating in jacket and tight-fitting shirt, but there were more questions than answers. He speaks to Jones ‘most days’, he said, but evidently not this one. He said he was taking the colourful denial Jones has through a Wallabies spokesman at ‘face value,’ yet admitted it would be ‘very disappointing’ if Jones was lying.

From the individual in question there had been no direct response before the game began. But a parallel pantomime played out as the sides collided, with boos issuing through the vast bowl every time Jones’ face materialised on the stadium screen.

Eddie Jones was thought to be looking for a new job – before Australia’s 40-6 loss to Wales

Jones was booed every time his face appeared on the stadium screen amid Japan rumours

Some of these seemed to come from Wales supporters, given that Warren Gatland’s face was heartily cheered, though a mutual dislike of Jones was something both sets of supporters could agree on in the packed trains out here to the Lyon suburbs. It made the reaction to Bobby Robson’s talks with PSV Eindhoven, before England’s 1998 World Cup, look very tame indeed.

It is Jones’ decision to rip up an ageing Australia squad to the extent that Michael Hooper, the long-time captain and fly half, was left out of this squad, which has been hardest to figure. Chaos theory again. It meant that when Australia needed a fly half of world class last night, they were sorely lacking.

Ben Donaldson took the jersey on this occasion. His fumbling of a ball in his own 22, and subsequent slip as he tried to gather it, seemed like an emblem for Jones’ misguided notion that vast experience has no part – because planning for the next World Cup is the priority.

Tournament simply sport does not work that way. Australians had instinctively felt that their side should be fighting for a semi-final berth, in the here and now. Donaldson did have his moments but when he ran into a gap in the first half, he floated a loose pass and the moment opportunity was over.

It was the same so often when Australia drove over the gainline – building their phases in the way they always did, yet then blowing it. When Samu Kerevi simply threw the ball into touch, the Wallabies were screaming out for leaders. 

Wales’ opening try by Gareth Davies had asked difficult questions about Australia’s defence

When Samu Kerevi threw the ball into touch, the Wallabies were screaming out for leaders

Jones offered a cryptic response to the Japan story last night, repeating the words, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ and, ‘I’m committed to coaching Australia.’

But there was a testiness just beneath the surface. When the question surfaced again, he said: ‘I really take umbrage that people are questioning my commitment to coaching Australia. if you want to continue down that line, I’ll excuse myself. Have you decided what you want to do?’

The inconvenient truth for Jones by the hour mark was that his side was fading away, slithering towards probable elimination without so much as a shout or a blow delivered in anger.

In the sunshine before it had all begun, the minister spoke of the need for the 2025 tournament to re-build Australian rugby. The notion of Jones being the man to lead that effort seems risible. He looked on in a blue cardigan, implacable, thumb places under chin. At least he’s started his job search.

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