Hamish McLennan backs Eddie Jones’ ‘bold’, ‘brave’ selection for Rugby World Cup in France


The Wallabies might have arrived in Paris winless and written off ahead of the World Cup, but Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan says the decision to parachute Eddie Jones into the head coaching role was “absolutely the right thing to do”.

The RA chairman also threw his weight behind Jones’ “bold” selection process, while adding that the governing body was intent on “breaking the cycle of short-term thinking” regarding its head coaching merry-go-round over the past decade.

Footage of the Wallabies enjoying a quiet first day under the warm Parisian sun poolside was in stark contrast to the high-octane scenes at Sydney International Airport, where Jones finished a doorstop interview by telling reporters they should give themselves an “uppercut” following the “worst press conference” he had been involved in.

Wallabies head coach Eddie Jones speaks to media at Sydney International Airport on August 17, 2023 in Sydney. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Combative and pugnacious, Jones said he needed to “wash himself” after perceived “negativity” as the Wallabies readied to take on the world.

McLennan said the coach’s emotive reaction typified the underdog belief and spirit that had re-emerged since Jones’ return in late January.

“Eddie’s passionate, energetic and a fighter. And he’s fighting for the Wallabies and our sport and I back him 1,000 percent and will continue to,” McLennan told The Roar.

Ever since being parachuted in to replace Dave Rennie, Jones has presented the Wallabies’ World Cup campaign as a “smash and grab” job.

Yet, the rhetoric has somewhat changed since Jones swiftly moved away from the “winning edge” of having co-captains after four consecutive defeats to the start the year.

Not only did Jones leave behind Michael Hooper, the Wallabies’ most-capped captain, but he also moved away from the model completely by naming Will Skelton skipper despite the second-rower barely ever leading before.

Tate McDermott and Angus Bell are two of Eddie Jones’ young chargers. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Jones also axed playmaker Quade Cooper months after telling reporters the veteran fly-half was “world class”.

All the while, Jones picked just five players over the age of 30 and two playmakers in Carter Gordon and Ben Donaldson, who boast just one victory from six Tests.

Despite the controversial selections and move towards youth, McLennan backed the changing of the guard nature of the squad ahead of the game’s showpiece major tournament.

“I really like the squad. I like Eddie’s thinking,” McLennan said.

“They’re determined to give it a great shake for this World Cup but we also have an eye on ’25 and ’27 and I think that bodes well.

“Rugby has a lot of emotion intrinsically tied to it and Eddie is fighting for our team, and our reputation. And I love it.

“Eddie is the most experienced World Cup campaigner in the world, and you’ve got to back his judgment.”

McLennan said Jones’ decision to shake-up the squad and back youth was supported by the RA board.

“All the major stakeholders at RA are aligned around being bold and brave. And this is absolutely the right thing to do,” he said.

Whether Jones’ “bold” plays comes off remains to be seen.

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan has backed Eddie Jones’ selection for the Rugby World Cup. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

History shows that a combination of experience and winning momentum is essential to successful World Cup campaigns, yet McLennan said regardless of the result at this year’s World Cup it was “absolutely the right thing” to move away from Rennie ahead of their “golden decade” that includes hosting the tournament in 2027 and the British and Irish Lions in 2025.

“We’re already seeing a more driven and bold approach to the selection of the Wallabies and the previous coach had a win rate of 38 per cent,” McLennan said. 

“I don’t think you need any more data than that to justify the decision to bring Eddie in.

“Eddie’s driving talk-ability around rugby and is re-wiring the team to play our unique way. You saw that in the first half in Dunedin.

“He actually knows what he’s talking about when it comes to team selection and culture. I’ve always taken a long-term view that 2027 is where we need to peak, and obviously we’d like to do well in France this year.

“We’re breaking the cycle of short-term thinking. Eddie is backing youth in this instance, and it’s the right thing for us.

“We respect what Quade and Michael Hooper have delivered for our game and this is the tough side of professional sport.”

On Thursday, Jones defended how he delivered the news to those who missed out on World Cup selection.

It came after Cooper chose not to return calls to Jones after being left out.

McLennan revealed he had spoken to Hooper and, like Jones, had attempted to reach Cooper.

“From what I’ve heard, it’s never an easy task (to deliver the bad news). But I believe that it was done in an acceptable manner,” McLennan said.

“I personally spoke to Michael Hooper to thank him for his service and we had a great conversation and he was incredibly dignified. And I too rang Quade to thank him for all that he’s done for Australian rugby and haven’t heard back. And I do appreciate that they are difficult calls to make for everyone but Eddie phoned Quade and didn’t get a response.”

With the Wallabies languishing in eighth spot on the World Rugby rankings heading into the World Cup, the entire Australian rugby landscape has come under scrutiny following their slip from finalists in 2015 to winning just 40 per cent of Tests since.

Eddie Jones has selected a new look Wallabies squad for the Rugby World Cup. (Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

McLennan said the “pressure” was firmly on the current board to turn Australian rugby around.

“The pressure’s on and we’ll deliver that,” he said.

“But it all requires funding. And let’s just not forget that the current board inherited rubble and out of nowhere we’ve been able to secure sponsorship, broadcast rights and a home Rugby World Cup in Australia, for the men and women, which is pretty remarkable.

“It’s taken us a while to get into this position and will take a little while to get us out. And we just need everyone to be a bit patient. But the patient is off life support. And rugby is going to come roaring back.”

While McLennan hasn’t been as vocal in recent months, he said Rugby Australia was enjoying the fresh leadership and voice provided by Jones and Phil Waugh’s recent appointment as chief executive.

“I work on rugby in one fashion or another every day of the week,” McLennan said.

“I think it’s also important for Waughy’s voice to be heard and Eddie’s. Rugby Australia was never about me solely. But I was happy to be the voice when we needed it.

“I don’t think it’s about me. I think it’s about the game and you’ve got the world’s best coach and a brilliant new CEO. I don’t need to insert myself in every conversation and we need to show the depth and the quality of what we’re building here at Rugby Australia.”

As for what to expect over the next 10 weeks?

“The new RA culture is a scrappy one, so we’re all fighters,” McLennan said.

“We need to win. What you’re seeing with Eddie is that renewed energy and fighting spirit come back into the team. And that bodes well.”

#Hamish #McLennan #backs #Eddie #Jones #bold #brave #selection #Rugby #World #Cup #France