Looking ahead to the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia, former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones has stood by his controversial decision to exclude seasoned players like Michael Hooper from the World Cup squad.
The omission of Hooper, along with playmakers Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley, raised eyebrows, especially considering their experience and skills.
Jones, however, remains resolute in his choice, emphasizing the importance of building a team for the future.
In an interview on The Bye Round Podcast with James Graham, Jones defended his decision, stating that he believed it was crucial to make such decisions early in his coaching tenure, even if it meant facing initial challenges.
The Wallabies’ disappointing performance in the 2023 Rugby World Cup, where they suffered a pool stage exit, only intensified scrutiny on Jones’s decision.
The coach’s assertion that Hooper and others were not suitable “role models” sparked controversy, given Hooper’s accolades as a four-time John Eales Medallist and the Wallabies’ most capped captain.
Jones, however, expressed no regrets, emphasising the need for a combination of factors, including on-field performance, off-field behavior, and the ability to serve as role models for younger players.
According to him, the decision was about shaping the team’s culture and ensuring it was on the right trajectory for success in 2027.
“I always think you’re better off making that decision earlier. Sometimes for a coach that means a bit of pain at the start of your tenure.
“I just felt at that time, those players weren’t right for the team.
“It’s a combination of factors: it’s how you play, how you handle yourself off the field, what’s your relationship like with the younger players, are you the role model to develop that talent?
“For older players you’re looking for role models to develop the talent coming through, apart from obviously playing well.
“I just made that decision, ‘Nah, this wasn’t right,’ and we needed to just cut the ties and go forward.” Jones concluded.
The coach acknowledged the challenges faced by the Wallabies during his tenure, noting the team’s struggle in the 2023 season, where they won only two out of nine Tests.
Jones highlighted the need for change within the Australian rugby landscape, aiming to break a 20-year barren period, including a lack of Bledisloe Cup victories.
“There was a couple of things. Firstly I thought, Australia had a barren period for 20 years. We haven’t won the Bledisloe Cup… I wanted to change things,” Jones said.
“I got there, I got to Australia… you work out who’s in the room, you work out, ‘right can I work with this group of players or do I need to change it to go where we need to go’, which is to win a World Cup in 2027.” He said.
Jones defended his desire to “change the game” upon returning to Australia, expressing his intent to assess the existing player pool and make decisions based on the team’s long-term goals.
Despite the difficulties faced in the short term, Jones remained focused on the ultimate objective – winning the 2027 Rugby World Cup on home soil.
The coach admitted the inherent risks in a total rebuild but emphasised that setting Australia up for success in 2027 was a priority.
While acknowledging the challenges faced in the 2023 season, Jones maintained that a broader perspective was necessary, and the rebuilding process was crucial for future success.
“It was about, ‘alright what can I do here to get the best result?’ And that’s not to say we couldn’t win the World Cup but the reality was we needed to build something that could win the World Cup when Australia hosts it in 2027.
“I had a look at the room and felt we’re not going to do it with these guys… I thought we’ve got to do a total rebuild here.
“There’s obviously risk with that… I’d rather set Australia up to be successful in 2027.” Jones said.
In the eyes of many rugby fans, Jones’s tenure with the Wallabies may be met with mixed reviews. But his unwavering commitment to the long-term vision for Australian rugby suggests a strategic approach aimed at achieving success on the global stage in 2027.