Why Eddie Jones is the right person to coach Australia and Rugby Australia had to sack Dave Rennie, column, analysis

featured, Rugby, Rugby Union, Rugby World Cup 2023, Wallabies

The Wallabies are once again World Cup contenders. Eddie Jones’ appointment is what the Wallabies need to wake up from their slumber.

When the Australian replaced Stuart Lancaster in late 2015, he took over an underachieving English side and immediately turned them into a rugby powerhouse.

Jones led England to 17 straight victories to equal the All Blacks’ tier-one record of 18 consecutive victories once he took over.

Eddie Jones led England to a record equalling 18 Test victories after taking over England in 2016, which included a 3-0 series victory over the Wallabies in Australia. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Along the way, England won the grand slam, a historic series clean sweep in Australia over Michael Cheika’s Wallabies, and backed it up by winning a second Six Nations title in as many years in 2017.

Jones didn’t reinvent the wheel. Instead, he simplified their game plan and made subtle tweaks by bringing in an outsider, Dylan Hartley, and appointing him captain.

He made bold calls along the way, dragging Luther Burrell in Brisbane and Teimana Harrison in Sydney from the field to turn the Test in England’s favour in the first half. Seven years later, he did it again by replacing Danny Care at the SCG before half-time.

He spotted talent, bringing in Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinkler. Neither played first up, but the duo would become key figures under Jones.

Others like Chris Robshaw and James Haskell were given a new lease on life.

Haskell, along with a number of current players including Owen Farrell and Anthony Watson, was scathing of the Rugby Football Union when they sacked Jones in December.

“You’ve literally taken the most successful World Cup coach, with a 90 per cent [World Cup] winning record, and binned him nine months before a World Cup,” Haskell told Sky.

He added: “I had five international coaches with England, and they were some of the worst environments I’ve ever been part of. Eddie Jones is by far and away the best coach I’ve ever worked with. He understood how to get the best out of the players, created a competitive and professional environment.”

Farrell, who lost the captaincy under Jones for the 2-1 series victory over the Wallabies in July, said he was “disappointed” by the Australian’s axing.

Veteran England halfback Care, who spent almost four years in the international wilderness after being dropped in 2018 before returning for the 2022 series in Australia, said Jones was the “best” coach he had worked under.

Danny Care passes the ball during an England rugby squad training session at the Hale School on June 28, 2022 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Will Russell - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Danny Care spent almost four years out of international rugby but said Eddie Jones was the “best” coach he has played under. Photo: Will Russell – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

His comments on the BBC came after he was hooked before half-time during England’s win over the Wallabies in Sydney and despite missing selection for the November Tests.

Jones, who led England to the World Cup final in 2019 and orchestrated a brilliant victory over the All Blacks in the semi-final, was sacked despite holding England’s greatest winning percentage (73).

His former assistant coach Anthony Seibold told The Roar he had never worked under a better person in “coaching in the moment”.

What Jones will bring to the Wallabies is a sense of discipline.

He won’t leave a stone unturned, and he will bring a ruthless edge missing for years.

Under Rennie, the Wallabies were too nice.

The players liked him. An edge was missing.

It led to the Wallabies losing matches they should have won. Rennie went in to the Christmas break holding a 38 per cent winning record – the lowest of any Australian coach (minimum 30 Tests).

Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie talks to Tate McDermott of the Wallabies and Nic White of the Wallabies after winning The Rugby Championship match between the Australian Wallabies and the South African Springboks at Adelaide Oval on August 27, 2022 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Dave Rennie could not settle on his halfbacks during his three-year reign as Wallabies coach. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

It’s understood players first saw Rennie start to crack during the Spring Tour, where the Wallabies suffered a historic loss to Italy.

It was no surprise that players publicly came out in support of Rennie. Doing anything else would be shooting themselves in the foot.

Before then, Rennie couldn’t settle on his selection.

It is in large part why the Wallabies only once consecutive matches once during this three-year reign, as a Quade Cooper-led side went on a five-match unbeaten streak in 2021 before losing momentum in the United Kingdom.

While the Wallabies suffered a record number of injuries and were forced to use 51 players across the 14 Tests in 2022, he told reporters he planned on rotating his halfbacks on the recent tour of the Northern Hemisphere.

Despite claiming the Wallabies had four “world class halfbacks” and that it was a “real position of strength”, it is extraordinary that Rennie could not settle on his preferred options after almost three years in the job.

A remarkable come-from-behind victory over Wales to finish the year saved the Wallabies from their worst year on record.

The victory showed he still had the players on board, but the stunning 21-point comeback against a poor Welsh side, who suffered defeats to Italy and Georgia in 2022, also painted a gloomy picture.

Noah Lolesio of Australia consoles his teammate Ben Donaldson at the end of the Autumn International match between Italy and Australia at Stadio Artemio Franchi on November 12, 2022 in Florence, Italy. (Photo by Timothy Rogers/Getty Images)

The Wallabies suffered a historic maiden defeat to Italy on November 12, 2022 in Florence, Italy. Photo: Timothy Rogers/Getty Images

Tactically, too, the Wallabies had become a side attempting to dominate the collision when physically the Australian team was far too lean.

Even from a player development perspective, the likes of Taniela Tupou had plateaued while others like Jordan Petaia and Folau Fainga’a remained inconsistent.

Noah Lolesio’s opening three years of international rugby could not have possibly been more turbulent, while Reds backrower Harry Wilson, someone Scott Robertson had said he had “fallen for” in 2020, had been extraordinarily left out of back to back Spring Tour campaigns.

Suliasi Vunivalu had not played more than three minutes of international rugby and was similarly left out of the World Cup.

While Nick Frost was incredibly a plane ticket away from being lost to Australian rugby before Dan McKellar managed to intervene at the 11th hour to stop the Brumbies youngster from joining Robbie Deans in Japan.

Mark Nawaqanitawase, too, was set to miss the tour of Japan with Australia A before selectors had a last-minute change of heart and opted to rest another Wallabies outside back. The decision opened the door for the Waratahs talent to go to Japan.

Rennie was shrewd enough to pick the outside back after an incredible showing against a Japan XV.

But it revealed some of the shortcomings of Rennie’s selection policy.

The New Zealander arrived in Australia with the governing body imploding and the game at its lowest ebb.

It was never going to be easy for Rennie, who was widely regarded across the ditch, endorsed by the great All Blacks servant Wayne Smith, and had built his reputation after winning consecutive titles with the Chiefs in 2012 and 2013.

But that was almost a decade ago, it was in Super Rugby, and it was coaching a New Zealand franchise.

Rennie was a first-time international coach, coaching in a distinctly Australian landscape. This was always going to be an uphill battle.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 02: England coach Eddie Jones shakes hands with Nic White of the Wallabies during the warm-up before game one of the international test match series between the Australian Wallabies and England at Optus Stadium on July 02, 2022 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Eddie Jones shakes hands with Nic White ahead of the 2022 series against the Wallabies in Australia. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Jones, meanwhile, has been coaching at the top for two decades, across four nations and been to three World Cup finals, including two as a head coach, and orchestrated the greatest upset in rugby history in 2015 with Japan.

The Wallabies can still make a late run in 2023.

There is more than enough talent in Australian rugby to shock the world.

The fact Vunivalu was left out of the Wallabies’ January training squad tells you that.

The timing of last week’s World Cup camp on the Gold Coast was less than ideal.

But rarely has there ever been a good time for a coach to go.

Rugby Australia believes Jones is their man not just for 2023 but for the British and Irish Lions series in 2025 and the home World Cup in 2027.

Not only does RA have the most experienced, credentialled figure in world rugby, but they have a mouthpiece that will do more to sell the game than anyone else.

It is why the governing body could not sit on Jones.

It is why Jones’ appointment is the right one for Australian rugby.

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