The Wallabies brought their youngest team ever to a Rugby World Cup, left veterans at home, and now face the grim reality of going home before the quarter-finals.
In their penultimate Pool C match Australia were steamrolled by Wales to deliver the men in gold their second loss of the tournament, downed 40-6.
The Wallabies have to hope Fiji lose to Georgia and Portugal to stand any chance of making the quarter-finals – a seemingly impossible reality.
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Now, questions are being asked of head coach Eddie Jones and the wholesale changes he made to the team ahead of the Rugby World Cup, which was barely tested before the tournament.
In August, Jones revealed the 25-man squad he’d take to France for his ”smash and grab” campaign.
Significantly, veterans like Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper were left out. Jed Holloway, Pete Samu, Reece Hodge, and Tom Wright were also omitted having been staples under previous coach Dave Rennie.
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Between the 25 selected, the average age of the group was just 26 years old with an average of 20 caps per player. Of the 25 men, 14 of them had played up to five Tests or were uncapped.
That decision has drawn the ire of former Australian international Stephan Hoiles, who warned those young players may never recover from the effects of Monday’s defeat.
”I feel for the players, as a lot of us have said. Some of these guys, they’re not ready for Test rugby yet. That’s not to be mean or personal about it, too many of them haven’t played well enough at Super Rugby,” Hoiles said on Stan Sport’s coverage.
”We’ve got five Super Rugby sides… the Brumbies have been the most successful over the last five to eight years. The Tahs have had glimpses of success, eight or nine years ago. The Reds, 11 or 12 years ago. Besides that, we’re in a failing Super Rugby system.
”As much as we can look at the coaches and say ’Yeah, let’s change that’ it’s the players that are out there that don’t have the time in the saddle to be consistent.
”I look at this side – and I don’t like to use this word lightly – I look at this side as a bunch of kids playing against men, and we took our men out of this campaign and said ’Let’s put more kids in and let’s let them learn from this and they’ll get better from it’ – sadly, they might not get better.
”I lost a quarter-final. That’s all I’m carrying. I’m scarred from losing a quarter-final. I was 26. I thought I’d get another crack. I didn’t. Some of these guys may not recover from this.”
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Hoiles bemoaned the form of Australia’s Super Rugby Pacific teams.
The Brumbies finished fourth in this year’s round-robin but were knocked out in the semi-finals. The Waratahs and Reds were sixth and eighth respectively and both bundled out in the quarter-finals.
Hoiles said having five Australian teams in Super Rugby Pacific was too many, and suggested that number should be wound back to three or four.
”We went through this five years ago and it was nothing but people thinking ’Oh you hate the Force, you hate the Rebels’. I played at the Brumbies, I played at the Waratahs, if it meant getting rid of one of them to make Australian rugby better, I’d be all for it,” the Randwick coach said.
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”We don’t have the depth in talent to play this many players at a professional level. All the Super teams are doing at the moment is signing foreign players. All these teams have got five or six foreigners.
”Club footy is thriving, school footy is thriving, I was over there (in France) last week. World Rugby is pumping. It is a very healthy game at a global level, we’re just not very successful at state and national level at the moment.”
The Wallabies have one last match against Portugal on Monday at 2:45am (AEST) at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne.