Wallabies legend questions Eddie Jones’ radical game plan changes

Dylan Coetzee
Former Wallaby Drew Mitchell looks on.

Former Wallaby Drew Mitchell looks on.

Wallabies great Drew Mitchell has questioned whether the changes Eddie Jones is making are too drastic for the side to excel at the Rugby World Cup.

One could argue that drastic alterations are required to fast-track progress in that regard, but in the mind of 71-cap Wallaby, Mitchell, it is a “learned habit”, making it difficult for the changes to stick.

It has been a hugely difficult start for Jones at the helm of the side after two losses from as many games as the Springboks dominated the match in Pretoria, and Los Pumas snatched the win late in Round Two.

Suitable style for the squad?

Mitchell also questioned whether the game model was selected to suit the available talent or is more of a case of tweaking the players towards the new structures.

“Eddie’s been speaking quite a lot about wanting to play a game that requires a lot of decision-making; whether that be, run or pass, whether it be to offload or not to offload, and whether it be go down the short side or play open side,” Mitchell told Daily Mail Australia.

“There’s so many different decisions that these guys have to make in a game, but after the last two performances, he’s (Jones) also said one area where we’ve probably fallen short on is our decision making.

“So are we picking a game plan and then making the players fit that? Or have we got the skill set of the players and then picking a game plan?

“That’s probably a question that still hasn’t really been answered just yet and hopefully it will in the next couple of games.”

Jones has been very vocal about returning the Wallabies to the ‘Australian way’ of playing off instinct, but Mitchell underlined that the fundamentals of set-piece are so vital in games with tight margins.

“Eddie talks about how structured Rugby Australia or rugby in Australia, in general, has been for a number of years now, but it’s a learned habit,” he continued to the newspaper.

“It’s trying to break that learned habit and going back to the way they started playing by just playing instinctively and what’s in front.

“That’s great to a point, but it’s Test match footy and World Cup rugby, so you also have to bear in mind that you have to play the right ends of the field. You have to be able to have a strong set-piece and play a territory game and win those kicking battles.”

Half-back partnership is vital

Mitchell believes a World Cup-winning team must have a quality and in-sync half-back pairing – an area that has not completely fired for the Australians yet.

He expects Nic White and Quade Cooper to continue in those roles, whilst also acknowledging the impressive emergence of young superstar Carter Gordon.

“You look at the history of the World Cup, teams with a really experienced and strong no 9 and 10 have gone on and won it,” he said.

“I would say that Nic White will be our starting nine, barring injury and that type of thing.

“I think that Quade will be the one in the 10 jersey, but I also think someone from outside of the squad, Bernard Foley, will play a role.

“Especially in the ten position, you have to have a bit of cockiness, a bit of arrogance. I think the way that Carter Gordon takes the line on, the way that he’s able to put his imprint on the game as well; or a young guy in that position, he’s probably ahead of any Super Rugby youngster in that area,” he added.

“In Eddie’s mind, he probably wants an experienced ten in that position, but to have someone like Carter Gordon to step up and perhaps finish the game off – he’ll play a role at the World Cup, absolutely.

“What role that is, and against who, we’re not sure. But these last two Test matches, the job that’s been asked of Carter Gordon, he’s been really strong in those areas.

“He came on in an unfamiliar position at 12 on the weekend and put in a pretty good shift as well.

“Carter has had two opportunities so far and done really well in both, and is probably instilling a bit of confidence in Eddie Jones and the selectors that if they need to turn to him, they’ll get a job done.”

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