The return of Tate McDermott from concussion could see the Wallabies turn to their third different captain at the Rugby World Cup, for Monday morning's (AEST) must-win pool match against Wales. Under-fire Australia coach Eddie Jones has faced intense scrutiny after his inexperienced side crashed to a first defeat against Fiji in 69 years to leave their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread.
Jones turned to hooker Dave Porecki to become the sixth Wallabies captain in the last seven Tests, following a calf injury that ruled regular skipper Will Skelton out of the Fiji match. The towering lock will also miss the crucial clash against Wales, with regular vice-captain McDermott unsure about whether he will lead the Aussies in Lyon.
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McDermott captained the Wallabies in the Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand in Dunedin before Skelton was promoted to the top job in the lead-up to the World Cup. The scrum-half is almost certain to come back into the starting XV to face Wales but admits he's still in the dark about who will captain the Wallabies, as uncertainty surrounds the side for a second straight week.
"We've got a strong leadership group, so anyone in that group is capable of taking that role," the scrum-half told reporters in Saint-Etienne. Scrum coach Neal Hatley confirmed the captaincy would be finalised in France on Thursday, saying it's "not a massive thing for us".
Drew Mitchell savages Eddie Jones
That view certainly doesn't resonate with many supporters such as former Wallabies back Drew Mitchell, who has torn strips out of Jones' approach at the World Cup and the uncertainty around his squad. Mitchell echoed much of the criticism directed at Jones for leaving the Wallabies' most experienced captain Michael Hooper out of his World Cup squad, alongside veteran playmakers Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley.
The former outside back - who played in three World Cups and was capped 71 times by Australia - slammed the revolving door of captains within the Wallabies squad and suggested it was part of a broader issue around leadership for Rugby Australia across the board.
"You talk about leadership in an organisation, we've had six captains in seven games, we've had a multitude of changes at CEO level, president level, coaching level, this is beyond just what happened (against Fiji)," Mitchell said on The Good, The Bad and the Rugby Australia podcast. "It's probably been a long time coming and we got bitten in the arse. It's time to wake up a little bit."
Mitchell says Jones owes Aussie rugby fans an explanation as to why he opted for youth over experience at a World Cup. "You've (Jones) made some glaring decisions around Quade [Cooper], around Michael Hooper, six captains in seven weeks, like, f*****g explain some of these decisions to us," Mitchell fumed.
"Because, as fans, we're all sitting here scratching our heads. And a lot of the time we can sit there and defend Eddie or the Wallabies because we can understand logic in some of these decisions, but there's none of it. Tell us as fans why have you not picked these guys? Because now we're seeing the result of you not picking some of these guys."
Soul-searching for Wallabies after Fiji loss
Ill discipline cost the Wallabies in their 22-15 defeat to Fiji after Jones' men gave away an equal tournament-high 18 penalties. Fiji also won the physical battle at the breakdown and relied on kicking and penalty goals to apply scoreboard pressure, with McDermott adamant his men have addressed their shortcomings ahead of the Wales game.
"The honesty in the group was awesome to see because it was a tough watch," he said. "We had to call that out, we had to put everything on the table so we don't fall into the same trap.
"Eddie's been really good at driving the mindset part as well, with all the coaching staff, so we've got a real clear plan of how we want to go into this game. We have to get that result so we've seen a big shift from the boys. The hangover from that performance against Fiji, we had to throw that in the bin as quickly as possible because of the importance of this game."
McDermott says he expects the game plan from Wales to be similar to the one that proved so successful for Fiji. "Fiji's mentality at the start of the game to take those threes (penalties); Dan Biggar is going to do the exact same thing with Wales. "We've got to win the physicality and if we don't do that, we're on the back foot, then we invite those opportunities for them to build that scoreboard pressure."
The Wallabies' woes in France deepened ahead of the Wales clash with Max Jorgensen ruled out of the remainder of the World Cup with a fractured leg. The uncapped teenage speedster suffered the leg injury at training, with his medical replacement in the squad still to be confirmed.
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