Australia are set to go into battle in their first World Cup match without their most experienced warrior, former captain James Slipper.
Head coach Eddie Jones did not sound confident about the chances of his veteran prop overcoming injury in time to pack down with the Wallabies against Georgia at the Stade de France a week on Saturday as he battles with a tendon problem in his foot.
“At this stage, it’s definitely touch and go for Georgia,” Jones told reporters at the Australian team base north of Saint-Etienne on Thursday, reporting on the health of the 34-year-old Brumby.
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“He’s got a tendon problem with his foot. We believe we’ve got that under control and he’ll be back on the paddock after Georgia.”
But despite other injury problems in the squad also still lingering, including knocks to tight-head prop Pone Fa’amausili, hooker Jordan Uelese and centre Samu Kerevi, Jones was adamant that everything was on course in the preparations to face the Georgians.
Asked if he was confident everything was on track for the Wallabies to potentially make the final in France, Jones, in a rather better mood than at his fractious airport farewell in Sydney, responded: “The only thing we have to worry about is is Georgia in 10 days time.
“Are we on track for Georgia? Yes, we are on track for Georgia. Then after we deal with Georgia, we get on track for the next game. That’s all we have to worry about. Those things (about Australia reaching the final) are for you guys to worry about, not for us.”
He was adamant the team was still developing despite his 0-5 start to life in his latest stint as national coach.
“You go in with a perception of how you think the team may be and then the players’ talents have really shone through and we’re just discovering now how we need to operate as a team, how we want to play and how we can play to our strengths.
“So for us, it’s all just really starting now.
“We’ve got a new leadership group in led by Will (Skelton) and that’s changing the team as well. So for us, the big thing is finding the right way to play to our players’ strengths.
“The plan was always to free us up from structure. I don’t believe you can copy other teams’ structure.”
So the Wallabies won’t be following world champions South Africa’s decision to fill their replacements’ bench with a 7-1 split between forwards and backs in their latest statement hammering of New Zealand.
“Next step’s eight-zero, mate,” smiled Jones.
“Tradition says five-three – that doesn’t mean it’s right. Is 7-1 right or is 8-0 right? If you’re going to play a heavily dominant forward game, why wouldn’t you have all forward players on your bench?
“The world’s changing, the game of rugby is changing, the way it’s refereed is changing, the way it’s officiated off the field is changing. It’s just a sign of the times, mate.
“There’s different ways to play the game and I applaud South Africa for being so bold and courageous in the way they want to play the game. That’s great innovation.”
Asked if he was inspired by the champs, though, Jones insisted: “Well, it doesn’t inspire me – South Africans don’t inspire me as much as I admire them.”