The Wallabies finally getting to speak for Eddie Jones is a blessing for us all

Geoff Parkes
Wallabies prop Taniela Tupou and fly-half Carter Gordon.

Wallabies prop Taniela Tupou and fly-half Carter Gordon.

An autumn Saturday in Paris conjures up all sorts of images. A romantic walk along the banks of the Seine, viewing the sunset over the city from the Eiffel Tower, watching Parisian lovers go about their courting over a lazy glass of Cotes du Rhone from a sidewalk café.

None of those are as satisfying as knowing that all of the verbal sparring, sideshows and distractions that have been the hallmark of Australia’s World Cup build-up are about to come to an end.

At 6pm on Saturday (Paris time) Wallabies head coach Eddie Jones will take his seat at the Stade de France and the multitude of promises, retorts, cheeky grins and observations – genuine, tetchy and flippant – will count for nothing.

Danny Cipriani sideshow

Perhaps there is actually somebody out there more interested in Danny Cipriani’s claim that Jones was “like a horny teenager” asking about his sex life, than what happens at the World Cup?

Cipriani has a book to sell. The Wallabies have a World Cup to win. On the scale of importance, one of those things carries weight.

What a relief it will be to consign the tosh of recent days into the dustbin where it belongs. Finally, it will be Jones’ side that does the talking for their gaffer. And win or lose, the focus will be reset squarely onto pure rugby matters for as long as the Wallabies stay in the tournament.

Like no other, this tenth World Cup carries a sense that there are multiple upsets in the offing. Samoa, Tonga and Japan have delivered before, but this time around, nobody feels stupid about predicting upset ‘Tier Two’ over ‘Tier One’ results, for the simple reason that these don’t feel like outrageous possibilities. More like normal business.

And if you don’t believe that, ask anyone who was at Twickenham last week which side, Fiji or England, has the most improvement in them.

Given Australia’s current world ranking of ninth would an opening round loss to Georgia actually be considered an upset? In hindsight, should Georgia win, then the answer would be no. But in truth, should both sides play anywhere near to their potential, the answer must be yes.

No matter the steady improvement made by Georgia in recent seasons, Australia is a superior outfit. All things being equal, they need to get on to the field, excited to be there but not fizzing over, play the match on their terms, deliver a ‘Tier One’ performance and all will be well. Sounds easy when you say it fast.

From their impressive young props, Angus Bell and Taniela Tupou, to the finishing power of winger Marika Koroibete, the Wallabies surely carry a class edge.

Power too; man-mountain Will Skelton might have been a reluctant captain, but he knows his way around a French battlefield, while barnstorming Rob Valetini, at 25, 113kg and 35 Tests, arrives at this World Cup boasting a perfect set of numbers.

Whatever nerves new fly-half Carter Gordon brings to the kicking tee, there will be no toning down his attacking mindset. Despite his young years, Gordon relishes responsibility and understands that the term ‘playmaker’ demands that he does just that.

Naturally, just like any fly-half, that task will be made easier for him if his pack delivers front foot ball and his half-back delivers fast and accurate service; something that hasn’t always been Tate McDermott’s strong suit.

Final selection will be influenced by injury – more so than is comfortable for an opening match – but carrying injured players into the tournament is potentially something for Jones to answer to at a later date, not first-up against Georgia. His squad is strong enough and deep enough, if good enough.

Given the uncomfortable double that awaits the Wallabies in St Etienne and Lyon, against Fiji and Wales, an untimely loss in Paris would shatter confidence and heap an almost intolerable amount of pressure onto Jones and his side.

It can happen, and Georgia has last-start wins against Italy and Wales to say it can. There is precocious young talent, like full-back Davit Niniashvili for example, blended with ample French Top 14 presence, and growing international experience.

Against that, it feels like Georgia’s much-vaunted set-piece and power game probably threatens the Wallabies less than a side that might offer a genuine running threat into the wider channels, where Jones’ Wallabies are yet to bed in a convincing defensive system.

In reverse, the Georgians may also be vulnerable out wide, to the speed and power of Mark Nawaqanitawase and Koroibete, just as they were exposed by Scotland in their final warm-up match.

It helps both sides that an opening weekend of blockbuster fixtures will see this match sneak under the radar; at least, as much as any World Cup game can. But however that might apply in a global sense, there’ll be no ‘under the radar’ as far as Wallabies fans and media are concerned, for Jones and his sponsor, Rugby Australia Chairman, Hamish McLennan, should they slip up.

Scanning the Georgian team list, non-Australian readers might be interested to learn that Vilis is a popular, well-known brand down under. The Melbourne-based business makes pies and sausage rolls; perfect rugby food, particularly when accompanied with liberal doses of tomato sauce.

Georgia won’t fear Wallabies

That is surely an omen, but for which side? Georgia won’t fear Australia, they will focus on their own game, and haven’t turned up at this tournament to be snacked on by anybody, least of all a side yet to win a game under their current coach.

In the 2019 World Cup – the only meeting between the two sides – Australia prevailed 28-7. They will feel that they have improved the most in the four years since.

Most teams are entering this World Cup off four years’ preparation. South Africa, realistically, are in year six of their cycle. Australia – for better or worse – are just six months into theirs.

Is that enough time for Jones to sort out the players he wants, bed in a new coaching group and win a World Cup? Logic says no. Is it enough to beat Georgia on Saturday? Yes, it is.

Not only that, it sure beats talking about Danny Cipriani’s love life.

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