PARIS — Eddie “Everywhere” Jones has disappeared for the first time since he burst out of the clouds earlier this year to coach the Wallabies. Kind of.
After doing everything he could to bring new momentum to Australian rugby over the past eight months, Jones chose not to use his gun lingo to explain his selection for the Wallabies’ final Test before the start of the World Cup.
While speaking earlier in the week, his decision to send his international first-year assistant, Dan Palmer, was an odd one.
Jones also didn’t want to reveal much just a week ago.
When asked if he had a “fully fit” squad against France, Jones replied not once, not twice, but three times that “France is a practice game”. Of course, there were other issues that distracted the doorstop press conference.
Jones is not wrong.
The Wallabies won’t get a single point that would help them lead their World Cup pool, so the game is essentially a practice game.
However, that doesn’t mean the game won’t impact the Wallabies’ World Cup season.
Given the razor-thin depth of Australian rugby, an injury, particularly in attack by Angus Bell or Taniela Tupou, would be disastrous to their World Cup hopes.
But in a balancing act of epic proportions, Jones also knows that both men, particularly Tupou, will need both minutes of confidence and match fitness when they face Les Bleus at the Stade de France.
Jones was somewhat forced to pick both aces.
Loose-headed star James Slipper wore a moonboot on Friday to aid his recovery from a foot problem.
The most experienced member of the Wallabies’ World Cup squad would have benefited from a week’s rest, but the injury made the decision not to field him an easy one.
He’s not the only props man at risk of injury, either, as Pone Fa’amausili isn’t at 100 per cent either after a tough week of training that has seen him improve since arriving in Paris.
Jones could have played outside his squad as Australia A played Portugal 24 hours earlier at the Stade Jules Ladoumague, 30km south of the Stade de France.
Instead, Jones rolled the dice, hoping his men would come through unscathed and gain confidence.
Whether the Wallabies’ start to 2023 without a win shaped Jones’s thinking is hard to say.
With Fabian Galthie naming what appears to be his first team for the last game before the World Cup, there’s every possibility the Wallabies will go 5-0 into their tournament opener against Georgia on September 9th.
But even though the test was a “practice game,” the Wallabies who went to the media were adamant the game was important.
“It’s huge. Every time you don the gold jersey you represent your country. So that’s super important,” said Toulouse-based star Richie Arnold.
“We have a job to do there. As you have seen, we started building our game through the rugby championship [it’s] It’s very important for us to continue that this weekend and get some momentum ahead of the Georgian test in the World Cup.”
Debutant Blake Schoupp, meanwhile, said the game is about growing.
“You want to win every game as best as you can, but the point of this game is to get better and prepare for the World Cup,” he said.
“We have a squad with an extremely high ceiling and if we fulfill our potential we will win the game. So everyone has to do their part and we’ll see what happens.”
The Wallabies’ assistant, Dan Palmer, also said the final test ahead of Sunday’s World Championships was just a stepping stone to a larger task.
“As Schouppy alluded to, every test we play is important, we want to win every test we play but like all international teams there is a World Cup context this year so I think you’ve seen it, “We didn’t manage to get a win, but you could see how the team has evolved over the last few months,” he said.
“The goal this weekend is exactly the same. We need to see progress in certain areas. We’re trying to build a team that can win the World Cup. That was also the focus of the selection.”
Jones’ pack closely resembles the pack that will feature prominently throughout the World Cup with French twin towers Will Skelton and Richie Arnold.
The back row is also the same one that was instrumental in helping the Wallabies hold a 17-3 lead over the All Blacks in Dunedin.
While youngsters Tate McDermott and Carter Gordon had another week to develop their combination.
Although Samu Kerevi has been training well all week, he still has another week to get back into shape after hand surgery. His omission gave Lalakai Foketi a chance to prove his worth after being under surveillance throughout the Rugby Championship.
Three selections stood out for different reasons.
Suliasi Vunivalu has been called up for his second start but the scolded winger is likely to get a chance to build confidence and form should he be used throughout the season.
In the absence of a second specialist playmaker, the addition of Ben Donaldson to the bench is a clear sign that the defender, who is tied to Western Force, will play a key role throughout the tournament after tipping the tackle for the past eight weeks -Bags held.
Most intriguing – and exciting – though is Issak Fines-Leleiwasa coming on from the bench.
One of the real bolters of the World Cup, the undeserved halfback had to leave the Brumbies for more chances after Dan McKellar preferred Nic White and Ryan Lonergan.
However, what the dreadlock halfback offers is a key difference.
The 27-year-old brings pace and pace into the game.
Where White struggled to hold his own against the All Blacks, Fines-Leleiwasa probes and dances and makes things happen.
He is not an international starter. At least not yet. But the Western Force halfback symbolizes Jones’ desire to win the game.
It is also important that Fines-Leleiwasa is Australia’s strongest halfback defensively and can play on the wing. In the Wallabies, when a player sweats, it’s White.
Jones can’t lose playing Fines-Leleiwasa as he will find out if the Livewire threat can withstand the heat of international rugby this weekend.
What Jones can lose, however, is the opportunity to go deep into the World Cup if one of his mainstays fails.
In fact, the stakes are high, even if the result counts for little.
https://www.theroar.com.au/2023/08/26/comment-eddie-has-rolled-the-world-cup-dice-by-selecting-key-men-in-high-stakes-practice-match-but-he-had-too/ Commentary: Eddie rolled the World Championship dice by picking key players in a high-stakes "practice game".