Opinion: Eddie Jones’ return to Australia could shift rugby’s supremacy back to the south

Dylan Coetzee
New Wallabies head coach Eddie Jones laughs before a match. australia

Eddie Jones’ name is everywhere today in rugby union as the 62-year-old was announced as the Wallabies’ new head coach, with Dave Rennie relieved of his duties.

It is a fascinating move that, in the bigger picture, seems obvious to some extent, but took the rugby fraternity by surprise given that not long ago, Rennie clarified there had been no contact with Jones from Rugby Australia.

Regardless of how Jones received his new job offer, such a renowned coach heading back to the southern hemisphere suggests an interesting period ahead for rugby fans.

Northern dominance

Since the 2019 Rugby World Cup, there has been a clear shift in rugby’s supremacy from the south to the north. The 2022 Test season underlined that with Ireland becoming the first northern side to win a three-match Test series in New Zealand when they majestically downed the All Blacks to rise to the top of the world rankings.

France sits second in the rankings after being unbeaten last year and managed a win over every Tier One nation during a 12-month period – an outstanding feat.

Jones’ then England side was not at their best but still managed a series win in Australia against a disjointed and, at times, uninspiring Wallabies team.

Wales travelled to South Africa and claimed their first win in the country against the world champions, pushing the three-match series to the final game, where they lost. Nevertheless, things did not go all the Springboks’ way during that series.

The Autumn Nations Series painted an even clearer picture of northern supremacy as the Wallabies won only two of five games, South Africa two of four, and Argentina claimed one win and lost two. At the same time, New Zealand drew one and claimed two wins.

France and Ireland, in particular, will be looking to end the southern dominance in World Cups, with England the only northern side to lay hands on the William Webb Ellis Cup back in 2003.

Can Jones’ move to the Wallabies shift supremacy back to the south?

Of the four giants in the south, the Wallabies were definitely trending the worst with a win rate of 38% under Rennie – a statistic not good enough for two-time World Cup winners.

Outside of that, Argentina has been on a tremendous rise under Michael Cheika and looks set to continue growing into the World Cup year. South Africa and New Zealand both dealt with adversity and problem-solving in their squads, with the All Blacks powering through and showing their character as did the Springboks but to a lesser extent.

One of the mantras of the south has long been ‘become the best by playing the best’. That’s how the Bledisloe rivalry became so fierce, and so to the Springboks and All Blacks rivalry. The same ethos has seen Los Pumas start to grow into the team the rugby world knew they were capable of.

However, losing one of the three bigger nations’ competitiveness can impact growth, which is what has happened with Australia. Even take Super Rugby Pacific, for example, where realistically, only the Brumbies had a chance for the title outside of the New Zealand sides. As a result, one could argue that New Zealand rugby has suffered.

This all makes Jones’ appointment that much more intelligent. The former Red Rose coach is the kind of character to make telling changes from the top to bottom in his radical nature. He has already said he believes the Wallabies can win the World Cup in France. Audacious but straight from the Jones manual book.

The Wallabies will be back to their best under Jones; whether that is in time for the World Cup is another mystery. However, certainly by 2027, when Australia host the showpiece, Jones will have the Wallabies primed and ready.

Soon the three big southern sides, the Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies, could be gunning for World Cup glory again whilst building Los Pumas up brick by brick. All feeding off each other and improving each other through heightened competitiveness.

Southern hemisphere rugby is simply always better off when there is a strong Wallabies side.

READ MORE: Wallabies: RA chairman believes ‘the world changed’ when Eddie Jones became available