Can Eddie afford to go into Fiji’s tough RWC clash with the losing Wallabies star?

What a difference a win makes, or so they say.

It was hard to know what to expect from the Wallabies heading into the first game of another Rugby World Cup, given their winless record and gradual but actually piecemeal improvements in elements of the game from week to week.

Such was the form of this Wallabies team in 2023 that I certainly found it difficult to maintain much more than just hope and confidence ahead of the opening game. I’m not writing them off, but based on recent evidence I’m not sure where a win would come from.

And that was before the latest round of election bombshells hit last week. There were surprisingly few changes compared to other games this season, with the three changes to the starting XI and three more to the bench the fewest Eddie Jones had made in his six games as Wallabies manager.

But weren’t there a few idiots! No special locks on the bench, just two backrowers of different sizes. And a full-back on the bench who is so specialized in his skillset that he can really cover the wing areas, and with a clear bias towards one side of the field over the other.

Eddie Jones chose an underprepared Samu Kerevi against Georgia. But can he use it against the Fijians of Semi Radradra? (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

And then the biggest of them all: a full-back, unwanted by his own state after a lackluster Super Rugby season, slipped into the No. 15 jersey for the first time at Test level, ditching the previous wearer after a number of pretty good ones Performances, albeit in defeated teams.

Apparently it worked out pretty well. To Ben Donaldson’s absolute credit, he was able to put all the comments aside and play his best game in any jersey in probably 18 months. And while it may have taken a day or two for the full rationale for his selection to emerge, the game he played showed that the selection made perfect sense.

It’s just a shame that it wasn’t explained very well back then. At least not at first.

Certainly Georgia’s game plan dictated that another shooting opportunity was needed and it was quite clear that Donaldson’s foot was needed to pin the Lelos deep in their own half, which Australia did very well.

The heat was most likely a driving factor, so complaints about the Wallabies not playing more ball-in-hand are frankly misplaced. When the Wallaby gold jerseys looked more like burnt orange when soaked in sweat, this was never a game that was more about running the ball than they did.

Australia still had more possession than Georgia anyway. And remember when the Wallabies managed 200, 250 or more tackles per game during the Rugby Championship? They only attempted 84 in that game – half as many as the Georgians.

Ben Donaldson scores a try.

Ben Donaldson’s 25-point performance against Georgia confirmed Eddie Jones’ selection. (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

Still, a win is a win, and for the Wallabies it didn’t really matter how their first win of the year came about, just that it came.

Yes, it was “just Georgia” if you include the borderline disrespectful qualifying game, and while it was much closer to an 80-minute performance, it certainly wasn’t perfect.

But one thing is for sure: it’s a lot easier and a lot more fun to work on things with a win behind you and growing confidence. And all of the regular 2023 touchpoints require the same attention: lineout and maul, midfield connection and especially the alignment and positioning of the full-back.

Then comes the part of this week that Eddie Jones perhaps enjoys the most.

The win and the way the Wallabies played means several guys – Donaldson being the most obvious – delivered in a way that makes them hard to discount against Fiji this weekend. It would have been strange to see who Jones had earmarked for the game against the Flying Fijians on the second weekend, and it would have been even more “strange” to know how many differences there are between that team and the team he will play later that week calls.

Certainly Donaldson’s business case is as compelling as it gets. A strong kicking game, both off hand and off the tee, good support lines from the back and two good tries will be hard to deny. He still has many of the same defensive issues that affect his game when he plays flyhalf, and his positioning as a Test full-back was about what one might have hoped for in his first appearance at No.15. But he has repaid the coach’s trust in spades and Eddie Jones will certainly remain at the selection table when it suits him.


Andrew Kellaway’s absence from the Wallabies’ World Cup opener left many confused. (Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

So the flow-on selection problem won’t be in the final three, but probably with the backups. And I maintain that it makes far more sense to select someone like Andrew Kellaway, who can play three or four positions, than a winger who is likely to only play one.

Fiji’s scrum was strong against Wales and will be strong again this weekend. So you would think that James Slipper would have to be considered. But since there is little information about his fitness, it is hard to say whether he will or not.

The set-piece will certainly require Nick Frost to return to the locking rotation just so the Wallabies can look to attack the Fijian lineout throughout the game. It’s an opportunity for Australia, so not having a specialist on the bench would be a waste.

And on the subject of fitness: How healthy is Samu Kerevi really?


Mark Nawaqanitawase, Max Jorgensen, Samu Kerevi and Ben Donaldson during a Wallabies training session in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Last week, The Roar reported that he would likely only play about 40 minutes, and that proved to be true. But where does he sit after these 40 minutes? He averaged five yards per run and didn’t make or miss a tackle. Defeat a defender and take away a throw-off. But did he have much influence? I’m not sure.

And I’m wondering if Semi Radradra should play against a midfielder who plays less than 100%?

Those are all questions worth considering, but Jones has more options for his 23 now than he did a game or two ago. And that’s a much better situation than when he first picked up the Wallabies clipboard.

Choice headaches are always great, but they would be even more satisfying if you brought them on yourself. Can Eddie afford to go into Fiji's tough RWC clash with the losing Wallabies star?

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