Australia’s Rugby World Cup journey in 2023 turned into an unprecedented disappointment as they failed to advance to the knockout stages for the first time in the tournament’s history. Taniela Tupou, a prominent figure in the Wallabies’ lineup, has pointed to a combination of youth and the absence of an experienced fly-half as key factors behind their lackluster performance on the global stage in France.
Under the guidance of newly appointed head coach Eddie Jones, who took the reins from Dave Rennie at the start of the year, the Wallabies endured one of their least successful years, securing only two victories out of nine internationals. These wins, against tier two nations Georgia and Portugal, couldn’t compensate for the disappointments against Wales and Fiji that marked the downfall of their World Cup aspirations.
Reports from the Sydney Morning Herald during the World Cup suggested that Jones was in talks with Japan Rugby Football Union officials about potentially becoming the Brave Blossoms’ head coach next year. While Jones initially denied these claims, the post-World Cup scenario saw him expressing definite interest in the Japan coaching job, hinting at a possible shift in his coaching career.
Tupou, sidelined for a significant portion of the World Cup due to injury, believes the Wallabies’ youthful squad struggled to cope with the immense pressure of the tournament. The absence of an experienced number 10 further compounded their challenges, with 22-year-old Melbourne Rebels playmaker Carter Gordon being the sole recognized fly-half in the 33-man squad.
Jones’s decision to exclude seasoned veterans Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley from the squad sparked controversy. He defended his choices, stating that they were not the right “role models” for the team. Tupou, speaking on the BallCarrier rugby podcast, expressed his initial trust in Jones’s decisions, rooted in the coach’s past World Cup experience. However, the anticipated success did not materialize, and the team found themselves lacking players who could handle the intense pressure of crucial moments.
“When Eddie named that team [for the World Cup], what I was thinking at the time was that Eddie has been in the World Cup [before]. He knows what he’s doing. I’m going to trust him.
“Then I went to the World Cup and it didn’t happen. When the pressure was on, you needed guys who could handle pressure. We had guys who couldn’t do that.
“I don’t want to sit here and moan that it could have been this or that but an experienced 10 would have helped… or anyone who could have sat in the driver’s seat.” Tupou said.
The aftermath of the disappointing campaign has prompted Rugby Australia (RA) to take action. Former Test duo Andrew Slack and Justin Harrison, along with high-performance expert Darlene Harrison, have been appointed to conduct an external review of the Wallabies’ 2023 season.
This comprehensive evaluation aims to identify the shortcomings, provide insights into areas of improvement, and set the course for a potential revival of Australian rugby on the international stage. As the Wallabies grapple with the label of the “worst team ever” in a World Cup, the onus is now on them to learn from this experience and work towards a brighter future.
“When the team was named and I looked at the squad, it was a lot different to Dave [Rennie’s squad]. We knew how to play with each other.
“People will say we are the worst Wallabies team ever in a World Cup and whether we like it or not, it’s something we’re going to have to live with. It’s up to us to try and change that.” Tupou concluded.