MELBOURNE — It will do little to appease Wallabies fans who have grown tired of empty promises, but Eddie Jones has implored Australians to maintain the ‘hope’ for the Rugby World Cup, confident his winless team are taking the necessary steps to mount a strong campaign in France.
Erudite Australian rugby fans will instead point to a 19-minute period after halftime and respond that they have simply had enough.
Yet another Bledisloe battering, this time a 38-7 defeat at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, suggests that might well be wishful thinking, yet Jones was adamant he saw multiple signs that the tide was turning, despite the fact that many of the issues – namely discipline and an inability to capitalise on their periods of good play – have proven unconquerable obstacles long before the 63-year-old returned.
“I think it’s still a work-in-progress, the team’s very much a work-in-progress. But what I liked about the team tonight was the way tactically they took on New Zealand in the first 20 minutes,” Jones told reporters.
“If you arrived from Mars and you watched the first 20 minutes, you’d probably think the gold team was the stronger team, that’s the reality. But you’ve got to be able to do it for 80 minutes and when you put teams under pressure you’ve got to be able to convert that to points and we’re not good enough to do that at the moment.
It’s true the Wallabies were right in the contest for the first 25 minutes, All Blacks coach Ian Foster even admitted he thought Australia had been the better team to that point. But Marika Koroibete’s sin-binning, which came when Australia had been under pressure on their own line and, somewhat curiously after Mark Telea’s tap-kick had gone badly awry, was the beginning of the end.
From 7-5 down, the All Blacks dominated the rest of the half, scoring two tries, including a dagger blow from Will Jordan that put the visitors 12 points in front at the break.
To their credit, Australia came out in the second half intent on taking the game up to the All Blacks, lock Will Skelton ripping the ball away at the tackle inside the first minute and immediately securing Australia the field position they were after. But just as soon as they had possession, they quickly gave it back, with Jordie Petaia kicking the ball away in an aimless grubber he will want to forget.
Then, when the Wallabies got a penalty, the rolling maul went nowhere, instead it was superbly derailed by Scott Barrett.
Another penalty. More desperate defence from the All Blacks, first to deny a charging Rob Valetini, then again from Scott Barrett, who repelled Samu Kerevi with the help of Dalton Papali’i and Will Jordan.
Next it was All Blacks skipper Ardie Savea who pounced on Jordan Uelese and survived a passive Australian cleanout to win a penalty for holding on. But the visitors handed Australia one further shot when Richie Mo’unga failed to find touch from a penalty, only for the Wallabies maul to be repelled once more.
“Yeah, we can’t get it going at the moment, which is disappointing because we’re putting a fair bit of work into that,” Jones said of his team’s faltering lineout drive. “But again, we’ve just got to keep at it because it’s an important part of the game.
“They scored four of their six tries [while Australia had players] on yellow cards, and four of their six tries were either maul or pick-and-go, so you’ve got to be good in that area these days and we’re not good enough. I don’t know how many mauls we had close to the line — at least three, maybe four — where they’re points-scoring opportunities and we got nothing out of it, we give them a turnover.
“And then psychologically your team goes from being up there to down here and they [the opposition] rise, and that’s one of the things we’re not good at the moment, coping with that disappointment.”
Asked whether the All Blacks could see the Wallabies drop their heads when their endeavour had amounted to nothing, as each of James Slipper and Jed Holloway had commented during the week, New Zealand skipper Ardie Savea said no, but offered that his team simply saw it as their own opportunity to strike.
And strike they did, the All Blacks scoring on their first entry inside Wallabies territory of the second half.
Australia, despite their best efforts, attacked for 17 minutes and achieved nothing. New Zealand, conversely, needed less than two before they had their fourth five-pointer and the Bledisloe secured.
That is, and has for so long been, proven the trans-Tasman difference.
So while Jones can plead for Wallabies fans to keep the faith, many will feel that they have seen Saturday night’s script – that 19-minute period to start the second half in particular – too many times before.
“Where there’s life, there’s hope, mate,” Jones replied when asked what message he could offer to disillusioned Wallabies fans. “I’ve coached teams like this before and you can turn it around, and I saw enough today there to know that we can be a bloody good team.
“And it doesn’t look like it at the moment, you’re sitting there thinking ‘s—, what’s this bloke talking about’, but I’m telling you, boys, we can turn it around and be a very good team. So for the fans, they’ve got to keep being hopeful, keep praying, whatever god they’ve got keep praying too, that we turn it around, that we will. Don’t worry, we will.”
Be it Jesus, Muhammed, Buddha or even L. Ron Hubbard, the level of the Wallabies’ woes might even be beyond the collective powers of divine intervention.
A World Cup miracle? Unlikely.
Hope, despite Jones’ pleas, simply is nowhere near enough.