Wallabies coach Eddie Jones believes league is “killing rugby” at junior level and is predicting a Kerry Packer-style revolution will one day help turn the tide in Australia.
Jones sat down with fellow coaching doyen Phil Gould at his beloved Coogee Oval for a fascinating extended interview that is available to watch in full on Stan Sport.
Gould noted that some of the structural issues in Australian rugby development were the same as those Jones had identified when he was coaching the Brumbies in 1998-2001.
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The legendary league coach asked Jones why it hadn’t changed.
“That’s the $64 question,” Jones replied.
“I think at some stage someone strategic has got to come in and say ‘right, enough is enough and this is what we need to do.’ And as you know it always costs money.
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“And you’ve got to make that sacrifice to spend that money to get the game right in 10 years’ time… And I think at some stage in rugby, there’s going to be like a Packer revolution where the game changes a lot. More money comes in and that will help develop the players. I think that will happen at some stage.”
So revolution not evolution, Gould inquired?
“Yeah, 100 per cent.”
Packer revolutionised cricket with the World Series in the 1970s, backed by Nine and featuring the game’s biggest names, day-night matches and coloured clothing.
But Jones – who returned to Australia in January after a globetrotting career – was frustrated by what he viewed as a lack of progress in the national production line.
“It’s still the same mate. The clubs have still remained strong, as we spoke about, but there hasn’t been that evolution to identify talent and bring that talent through,” he said.
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“And that’s why rugby league’s killing rugby at that age group at the moment.”
Jones picked out Ireland and New Zealand as the benchmark for rugby development systems because they had identified clear styles of play and then targeted the young athletes best suited to execute it.
“Like, we’ve got plenty of talented players here but they haven’t been identified and brought through quick enough,” Jones said.
“I think Australian rugby was strongest when we only had three Super Rugby teams and those teams were fairly settled and they ran like club teams. But things have changed a little bit with five teams and that sort of club mentality at each of those Super Rugby teams has probably been lost a little bit.
“And that’s the opportunity going forward to build that back up… I think it became too easy for a while in Australian rugby to play professional rugby with five teams.
“I think now we’re getting to the stage where it’s becoming more competitive and they’ll drive players to come through.”
JONES ON ISSUES AROUND PLAYER SAFETY IN RUGBY…
“You go through periods where the sport was probably too unsafe and we allowed too much to go and the sport needs to get safer.
“And therefore, the equilibrium balance has changed too much to that way and I’m sure we’ll go back to more common sensical approach. I think the history of the world shows that people like gladiators.
“Like why is State of Origin so successful in league – because people love seeing that, people still love seeing that and there’s a place for it.”
JONES ON WHAT HE HAD LEARNED FROM LEAGUE…
“I think the standard of coaching in rugby league, generally, I reckon over the last 30 years, has really helped rugby. Because rugby league has been a fairly settled professional sport and the coaching has been of a high level.
“We’ve been able to certainly learn about defence systems and more recently, to some detriment, the attack system. Like I think rugby’s actually gone too far down the rugby league side now and we need to get back. Because rugby is a more instinctive game than rugby league because we don’t have the absolute structure in the game.
“But certainly we’ve been able to learn a lot from the coaching of rugby league.”
JONES ON THE LEAGUE PLAYERS HE WOULD HAVE LIKED TO HAVE PINCHED…
“Oh, we had Andrew Johns done mate, in 2005. We had him done, he was going to come. He would have made a hell of a difference.
“(Billy) Slater would have been handy, that Cameron Murray would be pretty handy at 12… If you’re a State of Origin player in rugby league and you’re an outside back, you can definitely make it in rugby. And I think you know, Matty Rogers, Wendell (Sailor), Lote Tuqiri have all shown that, Andrew Walker.”
Eddie: ‘We had Andrew Johns done’
JONES ON HIS TIES WITH CURRENT NRL COACHES…
“(Craig) Bellamy I’ve seen a few times, Wayne (Bennett), hopefully I’ll catch up to in Brisbane. But every time you meet them mate, and like I met you when I was a young coach coming through, the absolute jewels of knowledge that you get from those guys, you never forget.”
JONES ON HIS SECOND ACT AS WALLABIES COACH…
“Can’t wait mate. It’s just this golden opportunity you thought you’d never get again.
“When you lose the job of the country you think your coaching’s finished so to get it again, 18 years or 20 years down the track is just fantastic.”
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