From Paul Eddison in Lyon
When Eddie Jones returned to Australia to huge fanfare, he was billed as the prodigal son who could pull the Wallabies out of the mud.
Eight games into his reign, Jones is relying on a favour from either Georgia or Portugal to prevent Australia going out in the group stages of the World Cup for the very first time.
Against Wales in Lyon, the Wallabies conceded a first penalty after just 14 seconds and were 7-0 down after just three minutes.
By the time the final whistle blew, the score was 40-6, with Australian players looking utterly dejected all over the field as the Stereophonics blared out over the loudspeakers.
That is now seven defeats in eight matches for Jones, the aforementioned Georgia the only team he has beaten. This was easily the worst of the lot.
It’s something of a pain to get to but Lyon’s stadium is mighty impressive
The third successive time I’ve covered Wales against Australia at the World Cup
1-1 so far but the most riding on this of any of them!#RWC2023 pic.twitter.com/SfXLj6ss9B
— Paul Eddison (@pauleddison) September 24, 2023
He has chopped and changed, with six different captains, axed Wallabies legend Michael Hooper and made the call to name Test rookie Carter Gordon as the only fly-half in the squad, before dropping him for the biggest game of the competition.
When Gordon was thrown on for Ben Donaldson, another Test newbie who was let go by his Super Rugby franchise before his surprise Wallaby call-up, Australia were already trailing by 23 with less than half an hour remaining. The jeers that greeted Gordon kicking a penalty dead when the game was already long gone were cruel, but were aimed as much at the coach as the player.
Were it just the team performances, Jones would be under pressure but perhaps given some leeway given the age and inexperience of his squad.
But the man who styles himself as the master of World Cups – reaching two finals as well as masterminding Japan’s historic win over the Springboks in 2015 – has been causing as many headlines off the field as for the disappointing performances on it.
His running war with the media saw him urge reporters to give themselves upper cuts before the team headed off for France, while the day of this crucial game began with reports that Jones had interviewed for a return to the Japan national side, despite being under contract with the Wallabies until the next World Cup – which just happens to be taking place in Australia.
He bristled at questions about that report, flat out denying it to Tom Decent, the Sydney Morning Herald journalist who had broken the story.
As he had after the Fiji defeat, Jones took responsibility for the defeat that has left Australia on the brink. But as Drew Mitchell, the former Wallabies winger pondered, what does it mean to take responsibility if you are back in charge for the next game?
Well it certainly does not mean that he is leaving, at least not yet.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 24, 2023
He said: “I think I’ve got the ability to turn things around. I was hoping we would be able to do it by now but we haven’t been able to do that. But I take full responsibility for it, I haven’t done a good enough job and I’m really disappointed with that.”
Granted, injuries have hurt Australia, skipper Will Skelton and top two tighthead props Taniela Tupou and Allan Alaalatoa are all currently out of action.
But it still does not explain a team with clear talent but a complete lack of direction while demonstrating a level of naivety in their game plan.
The chronic indiscipline pre-dates Jones but has only got worse and when all was said and done here, Australia had fallen to their biggest-ever defeat at a World Cup.
Rugby stats man Russ Petty also pointed out that you had to go back to the 1970s, before Jones was a feisty hooker for Randwick, for the last time Wales beat Australia by more than six points.
Now, if Fiji take at least five points from two matches against Georgia and Portugal, Australia will be heading home, Jones’ hopes of a reunion with the England team who fired him last December dashed.
Wales, meanwhile, became the first team to book their place in the quarter-finals of this World Cup, are now three from three and fresh from their best performance of the tournament.
A win over Georgia will see them top their group and give Warren Gatland reason to believe they can reach a third semi-final in four campaigns under the Kiwi.
More importantly, in Jac Morgan, they looked to have found a budding superstar. The 23-year-old made the break to set up Gareth Davies’ opening try and it was his 50:22, from inside his own 22, that was the moment the game swung away from Australia for good. It was fitting that the game ended with him scoring the third and final Wales try.
He is a different player to Sam Warburton, but is following a similar trajectory to the two-time Lions captain who broke through at the 2011 World Cup at just 22.
Wales' World Cup preparation was notable for the retirements of legends of the stature of Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric but they have rebuilt in a short space of time and now the foundations of a team that can challenge for bigger honours in future.
That is very much not the case for Jones and Australia. The question now is, does he have a future?