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Eddie Jones has the unequivocal backing of Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan, so he isn’t going anywhere unless the states roll the board, or he leaves for the Japan job. But, let’s assume Jones does stay. That would raise a big issue, so far unaddressed, that has been central to his poor last years with England and the Wallabies’ failed Rugby World Cup campaign: who are his assistants? Can defence coach Brett Hodgson stay in his job after the Wallabies conceded 40 against Wales? Does Neil Hatley retain the scrum portfolio? If not, who can Jones attract to work with him to turn around the obvious issues in the Wallabies’ game? These are issues that are almost as fundamental to the Wallabies’ future performances that the question if Jones stays or departs. World-class coaching teams are hard to assemble, and England’s eventual decline under Jones was surely linked to the revolving door of assistants.
THE STING IN BRUMBIES’ CRITICISM
Chairman Matt Nobbs came out swinging against Rugby Australia for what he described as “appalling” treatment, viewing it as effectively a hostile takeover. Clearly, Rugby Australia will have a different view of those events. However, Nobbs did identify an issue that goes to the heart of Australian rugby’s current financial issues. After the Western Force were readmitted into Super Rugby, they weren’t being wholly funded by Andrew Forrest, who is sometimes naively held up as the potential white knight of Australian rugby. In fact, RA’s annual reports show that they sent $4.7 million to Sea of Blue Pty Ltd in 2022, up from $3.5m in 2021. That’s loose change for Forrest, but it’s a big chunk of change to effectively remove from the other four teams. Super Rugby remains an expensive business, especially in its current format.
THE CASE FOR THE TWO-DIVISION NATIONS CUP
The Nations Cup/World League proposal with two divisions has attracted plenty of criticism, especially during a Rugby World Cup in which the gap between the developed and developing nations has been stark at times. The call goes out that the developing nations need more games against the developed nations, and that’s understandable: everyone wants to see the Uruguays and Georgias do well. However, in the present climate, I’d use the airplane analogy. When the turbulence hits – and it is battering the rugby economy – the captain always tells guardians to put on their own oxygen masks before their offspring. Rugby desperately needs a coherent fixture list between the developed nations, never mind one that also provides opportunities for the smaller nations. Longer-term, relegation and promotion between two divisions is critical, but don’t underestimate how fragile some of the ‘big’ nations are at present. As for progress on the Nations Cup/World League, it’s understood that a final decision – if it comes at all – could be pushed back until next May.
Kalani Thomas looks to pass the ball during the round five NPC match between Southland and Auckland.Credit: Getty Images
AUSTRALIAN WATCH IN THE NPC
There is a smattering of Australians in the NPC, and it has been instructive to see how they have performed at that level. Reds halfback Kalani Thomas is having a good season at Auckland, and he has edged ahead of Blues squad member Taufa Funaki as their first-choice No 9. Kalani was very young when he was first capped by the Reds, but the 21-year-old is now starting to look like he belongs in Super Rugby. Physically, he has even won the odd breakdown turnover for Auckland. Force hooker Feleti Kaitu’u has been a busy and powerful carrier for Tasman, although a familiar Achilles heel has dogged him in New Zealand. His lineout throwing, especially in the first half of the campaign, was all over the place – despite having targets such as Quinten Strange (Crusaders), Pari Pari Parkinson (Highlanders) and Max Hicks (Highlanders) to aim for. However, the eye-catching player has been Cameron Orr, the former Rebels prop who has turned up in Wellington. Principally used off the bench, Orr has added real impact, especially with some really abrasive ball carrying. Perhaps that says something about the drop in quality from Super Rugby to the NPC, but Orr has impressed.
WALLAROOS’ UPHILL BATTLE
The Wallaroos impressed in the third quarter against the Black Ferns in Hamilton on Saturday. Their scrum was excellent, and they put some real pressure on the Black Ferns’ ball around the paddock. But, they simply lack the attacking weapons to make a difference in the Test arena. New Zealand isn’t immune to market forces, and the NRLW is attractive for their players as well, but as long as the Black Ferns can keep hold of outstanding talents such as midfielder Sylvia Brunt, the trans-Tasman clashes are going to be predictably one-sided.
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