The equation is simple for Australia. She must beat Wales on Sunday in Lyon (9 p.m.) to keep her destiny in hand and hope to get out of Group D of the World Cup. “We have to win, period,” proclaims second row Richie Arnold. A defeat would condemn the Wallabies to hope for a misstep from Fiji against Georgia or against Portugal. A rather unlikely scenario given the performance last Sunday in Saint-Etienne of the “Flying Fijians”, winners... of Australia (22-15).
It had been 70 years since the men of the Pacific had defeated their yellow-clad neighbors. “When I woke up this morning, I was hoping that the result would have changed, but no,” Eddie Jones despaired the day after the meeting. The former England manager notes that “the game was out of whack for the first 30 minutes of the match”. And no doubt he has been there for a little longer.
Booed by the French public behind Fiji, Eddie Jones takes full responsibility for the defeat and would have “probably deserved more. They should throw baguettes and croissants at me. I deserve everything I get.”
Since January 15, when he returned to duty at the head of the national team after a first stint between 2001 and 2005, the Wallabies have won only one of their seven meetings: against Georgia ( 35-15), for their entry into the World Cup. This enhanced success, during which Will Skelton's gang ultimately didn't show much, served as a smoke screen. Australian rugby is sick.
And Wales, certainly not in royal form, will not be asked to press where it hurts. “We will try to build on our strengths and put them under pressure as much as possible,” explains Alex King, assistant coach of the XV du Poireau. If we manage to perfectly align all facets of our game, discipline, precision, static phases, we will become very difficult to beat.
Among their "strong points", the Welsh include Dan Biggar, the famous fly-half whose skill against the poles could be very damaging if Australia were to be penalized as much as against Fiji. No fewer than 18 penalties conceded! “We really need to improve on discipline and ground play,” proclaims Eddie Jones. Center Samu Kerevi agrees, “you can't give so many points to a great scorer.” Already injured during the last match, second row Will Skelton and right pillar Taniela Tupou will not be restored in time. A real loss of power for the Wallabies who, without these two executives, suffered the physical impact of the Fijians.
The Australians seem to be sailing by sight, unsure of their strengths, with a young fly-half, Carter Gordon (22), lacking confidence. “Everyone is suffering, not just Carter,” assures Samu Kerevi, like a good teammate. Against the Welsh, Jones preferred to start Ben Donaldson, a fullback who, replaced in number 10 during the match against Fiji, had animated the Australian game well.
This considerably rejuvenated group, the youngest since 1995, is looking for leaders. “We are building a team for the future and we will go through difficult times,” explains the coach. I think Australian rugby needs a younger team. I am prepared to suffer to leave Australia with a team capable of playing well in the World Cup.”
The team will undoubtedly reach maturity for the 2027 World Cup. In the meantime, the baby Australians are keen to spare the nation the ridicule of a group outing. Which has... never happened in history. And the motivation is there. Hooker David Porecki believes it is “easy” to get back in the saddle before challenging the Welsh, “because it’s a World Cup match”.
The pressure must nevertheless have been great in recent days on Australian shoulders. But Eddie Jones says: “This is the best week ever for the coaches and for the players. It's these weeks that we remember later, when we are under a lot of pressure, with the obligation to achieve a good performance.