What Eddie Jones’ statements tell us about his first Wallabies squad – and why Rebels could be the big winners

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It is the week leading up to Eddie Jones’ first Wallabies squad for a training camp in a World Cup year. No one knows what he’s thinking, but one thing you can be sure of is that he is thinking, a lot, all the time.

It would be folly to try to predict what Jones’ 35-man squad will be: will he go for a “shock-and-awe” approach, selecting one or two wildcards to grab interest from pundits? In a way it will be more interesting to see what he is saying with the players he omits. It is important to note that he’s unlikely to select injured players like Taniela Tupou and will leave out overseas players like Marika Koroibete.

Jones is a great communicator, and you imagine some players have already received calls confirming they have made the training camp or not, while others will get a dingle next week explaining why they didn’t make the cut.

He has dropped some pretty clear hints about what kind of players he is looking for; I’ll take the bait, based on these comments…

“So, we’ve got to be junkies for winning, not junkies for possession. Possession rugby is dead,” said Jones at a function last week.

“60 per cent of [Australia’s playing pool is] Pasifika, we’ve got to play power rugby. Like, we can’t play a long-phase, hold-the-ball (rugby) with different sorts of gene pools”.

“Fast, fearless and resolute” is the mantra of the Rebels of 2023, it seems as though they align with Jones’ recipe of success.

The Rebels team, as well as their academy program are mainly comprised of homegrown talent with Pasifika roots.

Presently they have tested and emerging power players wreaking havoc in attack and defence. It is players like Trevor Hosea, Matt Gibbon, Josh Kemeny, Alex Mafi, Pone Fa’amausili, Carter Gordon and captain Brad Wilkin who embody this mantra and spur their teammates on.

If Jones wants “junkies for winning” he needs to look no further than the men from Melbourne. Their resolve to continuously improve is not wavering in the face of mixed results and heads aren’t dropping when the tide is against them.

“We’ve got to play smart; we’ve got to play to what the laws are now, and we’ve got to play to our strengths, which is being really fast and aggressive on the first couple of phases and then be able to kick constructively to get the ball back,” Jones said at the function.

“We’ve got to beat them. [A close loss] is not good enough for us. We need to beat the New Zealand sides,” he told the ABC’s Offsiders.

“That’s what we want to see going forward, we want to see our players dominating the New Zealand players.”

Playing to the whistle and playing the team you have in front of you is something the Wallabies and the Australia Super teams have struggled with in recent years. With the new laws creating chaos in the defensive line, you must be able to adjust on the run as well as prepare well each week.

The Queensland Reds have been hammered by injuries to key personnel but Jones won’t accept excuses for one of the most penalised sides in the comp.

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The Reds have conceded on average 13 penalties per game and have consistently conceded more penalties than their opposition. That is a negative trend: players are not learning from mistakes.

If Wallaby hopefuls Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Liam Wright, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor, Josh Flook, Suliasi Vunivalu, Jordan Petaia and Jock Campbell hope to impress Jones they will need to inspire a disciplined performance in front of a home crowd on Friday night. The Crusaders are a ghost of their premiership winning selves and all the players named above have an opportunity to “dominate” their NZ counterpart.

“The Rebels hung in the game, they could have got blown right out … you need to stay in the game with that intensity against the New Zealand sides. You can’t let them get on top.” Eddie said after the Rebels’ narrow loss to the Hurricanes in Super Round.

In the only Aussie-derby of the round anything is possible. On paper the Waratahs and the ACT Brumbies are the heavyweights, but the Brums have that title locked away. You can bet Eddie will be watching this closely for the head-to-head match ups.

Both sides will be required to give everything to make it a close game. Defence wins championships as the old saying goes, but if you can’t attack and score points then it won’t matter. Tah’s playmaker and Eddie-endorsed Ben Donaldson will need to remind Jones of why he sung his praises before the season kicked off.

Likewise, Brumbies pivot Noah Lolesio must show his raw playmaking, decision making, and defence have improved as much as his organisational skills. There will be head-to-heads across the park. In the locks it’s an all-Wallabies affair when Waratahs Jed Holloway and Ned Hanigan face up against Nick Frost and Cadeyrn Neville, Pete Samu vs. Will Harris, and halfbacks Jake Gordon and Ryan Lonergan will show why they should be Nic White’s deputy. The team’s wingers will want to be on the pace in what is to be a blockbuster at GIO stadium. And there will be plenty of attention on Tom Wright vs Max Jorgensen. 

Jones has also talked about wanting to see self-improvement and he wants players to be hard on themselves about driving standards.

The Force are definitely a team with potential and are well coached by Simon Cron. The only thing those players should be thinking about is doing the utmost to secure another win for their team. They have impressive players like Hamish Stewart, Toni Pulu, Tim Anstee, Felix Kalapu, Tom Robertson. They must avoid a cricket score against the Hurricanes. They must galvanise and raise the bar for themselves or reach the one which has so far eluded them.

Eddie Jones is a hard task master and effort off-the-ball will be king this weekend. The squad will be named on Sunday.

“I think every position is wide open,” Jones told reporters last Friday.

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