Australia coach Eddie Jones admitted on Monday he will have to find a way to better protect young fly-half Carter Gordon after the playmaker had a horror show in the Wallabies’ World Cup defeat to Fiji.
Gordon was at fault for Fiji’s only try of the match in the shock 22-15 victory against the Wallabies in Saint Etienne on Sunday that blew open Pool C and kept alive the Pacific Islanders’ knock-out stage hopes.
In a key moment in the match, Gordon misjudged his jump to claim an up-and-under, allowing the ball to bounce beyond him and giving Fiji’s burly centre Josua Tuisova a free run into the corner.
Gordon, 22, was also on the end of some ferocious tackling by Fiji and Jones expects his fly-half to face more of the same against Wales on Sunday.
“There’s no team in the world that doesn’t target the opposition 10. They are the conductor of the team and if you can get to them, you get to them,” said Jones.
“There are various ways you can look after your 10 and we’ll have a look at that this week.”
He would not be drawn, though, on whether that could mean dropping Gordon against Wales.
Gordon is the only specialist fly-half in Jones’s 33-man squad after the 63-year-old coach left the experienced pair of Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley at home.
The versatile Ben Donaldson, who has started both World Cup games so far at full-back, could be an option and moved to fly-half when Jones hauled off Gordon midway through the second half against Fiji.
Defeat, following an opening 35-15 victory over Georgia a week earlier, has left Australia with a must-win clash against Wales, who have beaten Fiji and Portugal already, on Sunday.
“Everyone’s talking about we’ve got an upcoming do-or-die game,” hooker David Porecki, who stood in as captain for the injured Will Skelton against Fiji, said after the match.
“It’s a World Cup game, so every game’s do-or-die in my eyes and in the players’ eyes.”
– Grinding Wales a ‘different team’ –
Jones took responsibility for the defeat given his decision to bring such a young and inexperienced squad to France and leave out experienced players such as former captain and flanker Michael Hooper.
He admitted he is still struggling to understand why his team failed to perform against Fiji.
“We are all still searching for answers. None of us has the 100 percent answer. But we have ideas about where the game came unstuck,” said Jones.
“But Wales are a completely different team. They grind away at you whereas Fiji is power.”
Wales have been in turmoil themselves, winning just 13 of 40 matches since reaching the semi-finals of the last World Cup in Japan.
They have finished fifth in three of the last four Six Nations Championships and at the end of 2022, they brought back New Zealander Warren Gatland to replace his compatriot Wayne Pivac, who was fired over poor results.
Jones feels they have improved since Gatland’s return, although they were fortunate to beat Fiji 32-26 in their World Cup opener and laboured to a 28-8 victory over group minnows Portugal.
“They’ve gone back to a traditional style of Welsh play, a lot of the play comes off (fly-half Dan) Bigger,” said Jones.
“Their defence has improved and their lineout has improved. Those are the big changes in their game since Warren’s taken charge. They will be a tough team to beat.”