Wallabies vs All Blacks MCG, lessons from England Eddie Jones can learn from after backing Carter Gordon


Twenty-five years ago Clive Woodward turned to a young man to lead England forward.

After replacing Jack Rowell in September 1997, Woodward’s side initially went backwards as they lost their first four Tests under him before smashing Wales.

During the next summer, Woodward ushered through change. One of his first significant moves was backing Jonny Wilkinson to wear the No.10 jersey against the Wallabies.

In Wilkinson’s first Test start, England was hammered 76-0 in Brisbane to start their Tour of Hell.

Nor did it get better immediately either, as the All Blacks hammered Woodward’s side 64-22 a fortnight later.

Eventually, of course, it did.

Jonny Wilkinson kicks the drop-goal which won the 2003 World Cup

After making his starting debut in England’s 76-0 loss to the Wallabies in 1998, Jonny Wilkinson kicked the drop-goal which won the 2003 World Cup.  (David Davies / PA via AP, FILE)

Wilkinson, having been smashed on starting debut in one of England’s darkest days in June 1998, kicked Woodward’s side to World Cup glory against the Wallabies in Sydney – the only triumph at the tournament by a Northern Hemisphere side during the competition’s history.

Fast forward to the present and Eddie Jones, the man whose dreams were crushed that November evening in 2003, has too made an equally daring decision to turn to youth.

At 22, Carter Gordon is three years older than Wilkinson was when he lined up against the Wallabies, but the playmaker will make his starting debut against the All Blacks in front of an estimated crowd of 85,000.

If indeed that number walks through the Melbourne Cricket Ground, it will be the largest crowd in international rugby this year. It’s quite the cauldron to be thrust into after two Tests off the bench.

Carter Gordon will make his starting debut for the Wallabies against the All Blacks at the MCG. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Nor is he alone in terms of inexperience.

His halves partner Tate McDermott, 24, will start for just the second time in a year and first under Jones.

Mark Nawaqanitawase and Tom Hooper are both 22, while Jordan Petaia, who returns to the No.13 jersey having first worn it against Jones’ England side in the 2019 World Cup quarter-final, is 23.

In terms of experience, Jones’ side could barely have less.

“Well, you’ve got to get out of the gates against New Zealand. So, we’ve picked a young team. I don’t think I’ve ever picked a younger Test team,” Jones told reporters on Thursday at his team announcement.

“I think we’ve got 290 [350] caps in the starting 15. It’s a very young team. The All Blacks I’d say have close to 1000.

“So, we’ve got a young team out there, ready to take them on, not much past history. Just ready to play and we want to play Australian rugby, and then we’ve got a very experienced bench.”

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the Wallabies are massive $8 outsiders.

That figure has gone out slightly with Jones’ decision to back youth.

The question is whether Jones’ decision to turn to youth is a short-term play with September’s campaign in mind or one that could be the beginning of ushering through significant fundamental change with the 2027 World Cup in mind?

History suggests he should.

Wilkinson’s English side bombed out at the quarter-final stage of the 1999 World Cup before taking home the William Webb Ellis Cup in 2003. Their success came after Woodward turned to a new direction.

England Manager Clive Woodward puts a congratulatory arm round Jonny Wilkinson after the 2001 Cook Cup match between England and Australia played at Twickenham Rugby Ground in London. England beat Australia 21 - 15. \ Mandatory Credit: DaveRogers /Allsport

Clive Woodward with his World Cup-winning playmaker Jonny Wilkinson. (Photo by DaveRogers /Allsport)

Fabian Galthie clearly had that in mind in 2019 too, as the French great took over the Les Bleus and turned to youth for the World Cup knowing that the generational talent coming through would be better off for their home campaign in 2023 by the learned experiences in Japan.

Neither Jones nor Rugby Australia will want the Wallabies to crash out at the quarter-finals in a few months’ time. Perhaps only their dream runway to the final four could be what saves them from further blushes this year.

Whether or not Jones sticks with youth or returns to his older heads, the Wallabies’ “smash and grab” job looks more optimistic than realistic whichever way he turns.

Eddie Jones (coach) has turned to youth for the Bledisloe opener at the MCG. But is it a one-off or a longer-term play? (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

For whoever Jones turned to for Saturday’s Bledisloe opener likely didn’t matter.

Afer all, the gulf between the Anzac partners simply looks much greater than the Tasman Sea.

But should Jones stick with his younger brigade, including Gordon who reminds the Wallabies boss of World Cup winners Butch James and Stephen Larkham, Australian rugby might just benefit in the same way Wilkinson and Woodward did two decades earlier.

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