NZ Herald

18 Sep, 2023 06:44 PM4 mins to read

It’s the Rugby World Cup match-up few would have predicted - Eddie Jones v Sonny Bill Williams.

Australia v Fiji: Wallabies coach Eddie Jones responds to criticism ... - Figure 1
Photo New Zealand Herald

The Australian coach has defended his selections and hit back at criticism from Williams following the Wallabies’ shock 22-15 loss to Fiji yesterday.

Working as a pundit for Australian TV network Stan Sport, the former All Blacks and Kiwis star called out Jones’ decision to take young number 10 Carter Gordon from the field in the second half.

Williams said it goes back to the Australian selectors not picking experienced players such as Quade Cooper or Nic White in the World Cup squad.

‘My take on this whole ordeal of a game is, I feel for Carter Gordon right now,’ Williams said.

“Because he doesn’t have a Quade Cooper or [Bernard] Foley to go back to the hotel and say, ‘Bro, these things happen but you know you will be better.’ It’s really tough seeing him get pulled like that,” Williams added.

“And [Samu] Kerevi. But these selections, I’m going to call it how it is - we are in a high-performance arena. And sometimes you live and die by your decisions and Eddie Jones got found out tonight unfortunately,” the two-time World Cup winner said.

In response Jones, who has previously coached two teams to World Cup finals, defended his selections and decision to take a young and inexperienced squad to France/

“When you are a television commentator, you are always right,” Jones said.

“Maybe I need to become a television commentator then I’ll be right all the time. Look, we’ve gone with a young team, I’ve got no regrets at all. We are building a team for the future and we are going to go through some pain.

‘I made the decision to go for a younger team and if that’s the wrong decision then I will be held accountable for that.

“But I think Australian rugby needs to move on to a younger team. I am prepared to go through some pain to leave Australia with a team capable of doing really well in a World Cup.”

Always good to ‘kick a dead body’

Jones’ focus switched from Saint-Etiene to Lyon where they face Wales after their loss to the Flying Fijians.

“If you do the figures it probably will be [a do-or-die] game,” said Jones.

In typical Jones fashion, he had to tell the post-match press conference organiser to keep the questions coming, asking reporters if they had “got their fill”, joking that it was always good to “kick a dead body”.

The appearance of Jones’ face on the big screen was greeted by boos from attending fans in St Etienne - as well as when his name was read aloud pre-match.

“I am a bit used to it and after that I probably deserved more,” said Jones.

“They should be throwing baguettes, croissants at me. It was not good enough...”

While he may have brushed off the boos from the crowd, what will be of concern is the confirmation that prop Taniela Tupou and captain and lock Will Skelton will miss the potential pool-decider against Wales through injury.

Jones told Yahoo Sports the Wallabies losing bonus point might prove to be “massively important” as Wales, Fiji and Australia now battle it out for the top two positions in Pool C.

While the loss to Fiji puts Australia on the precipice of their worst-ever World Cup, Jones believes his side can still make it through pool play and win the tournament.

“The great thing about the World Cup is it’s not the end of the road,” said Jones.

“We’ve had a bit of a setback today, but that’s all part of being in a World Cup. I do remember South Africa lost a game and won a World Cup, so funny things have happened.”

The Australian coach will come up against Kiwi Wales coach Warren Gatland - an adversary he is familiar with.

Jones says Gatland has revitalised the Welsh in his second stint as coach and they will be a tough team to beat.

“I think they have gone back to the traditional style of Welsh play,” said Jones.

“A lot of the play comes off [Dan] Biggar, their defence and line-out has improved. They are big changes since Warren took charge and they will be a tough team to beat.”

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