The big question facing Eddie Jones ahead of Wales
SPOTLIGHT: Despite their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread, the Wallabies are in the dark about who will lead the side in one of the biggest games in Australian rugby history.
For the second straight week, there is uncertainty about the captain of the Wallabies, who face a do-or-die clash with Wales in Lyon on Sunday.
A defeat would mean Australia miss the quarterfinals for the first time since the inaugural tournament 36 years ago.
Heading into their first-ever tournament loss against Fiji, Wallabies coach Eddie Jones waited until game day to confirm regular skipper Will Skelton would miss at least two matches with a calf injury and hooker Dave Porecki would become the sixth Test captain of the year.
Vice-captain Tate McDermott missed that game following a concussion in Australia’s tournament-opening win over Georgia. While he will play against Wales, he remained unsure whether he would take over the armband.
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McDermott led the team in the Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand in Dunedin before Skelton was appointed for the World Cup.
“We’ve got a strong leadership group, so anyone in that group is capable of taking that role,” the scrumhalf told reporters in Saint-Etienne.
Scrum coach Neal Hatley confirmed the captaincy would be finalised on Thursday, saying it’s “not a massive thing for us”.
Former Wallabies wing Drew Mitchell, who lashed Jones in a podcast over his selection decisions, questioned the leadership of the sport and said it contributed to Australia’s first tournament loss to Fiji.
“You talk about leadership in an organisation, we’ve had six captains in seven games, we’ve had a multitude of changes at CEO level, president level, coaching level, this is beyond just what happened [against Fiji],” said Mitchell, who played in three World Cups.
“It’s probably been a long time coming and we got bitten in the arse. It’s time to wake up a little bit.”
McDermott at least sounded like a captain when he spoke of how the players had responded to their 15-22 Fiji defeat.
“The honesty in the group was awesome to see because it was a tough watch,” the 25-year-old Queenslander said.
“We had to call that out, we had to put everything on the table so we don’t fall into the same trap.
“Eddie’s been really good at driving the mindset part with all the coaching staff, so we’ve got a real clear plan of how we want to go into this game.
“We have to get that result so we’ve seen a big shift from the boys. The hangover from that performance against Fiji, we had to throw that in the bin as quickly as possible because of the importance of this game.”
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Eschewing their traditional flamboyant style, the Fijians played conservatively, winning the physical battle at the breakdown and relying on their kicking game and penalties to apply pressure.
McDermott said those tactics provided ideal preparation for facing unbeaten Wales, who are coached by Jones’s long-time rival Warren Gatland.
“You look at the similarities between them,” he said.
“Fiji’s mentality at the start of the game to take those threes [penalties]; Dan Biggar is going to do the exact same thing with Wales.
“We’ve got to win the physicality and if we don’t do that, we’re on the back foot, then we invite those opportunities for them to build that scoreboard pressure.”
In another blow, the Wallabies announced overnight that Max Jorgensen’s World Cup is over after the uncapped teenage speedster fractured his leg at training.
His medical replacement in the squad is still to be confirmed.