The Wallabies will have an all-new centre pairing for their final pool game against Portugal at the Rugby World Cup after Eddie Jones sensationally cut Samu Kerevi and Jordan Petaia. Izaia Perese will join NSW Waratahs teammate Lalakai Foketi in the centres as the Australians attempt to finish a disastrous campaign on a positive note.
Only a miracle will see them progress to the quarter-finals, with the Wallabies needing Fiji to lose to both Georgia and Portugal in their final two pool games and not get any bonus points in the process. The Wallabies will know their fate before they take the field against Portugal on Monday morning (Aussie time), with Fjii slated to face Georgia on Sunday morning.
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A lack of experience in the Wallabies side was exposed in their record losses to Wales and Fiji, but Jones has opted to axe Kerevi and Petaia and bring in Foketi and Perese for his first World Cup match. Perese is a specialist centre, but has never started a Test in the No.13 jersey.
Kerevi has played 48 Tests and still offers plenty of punch despite not being at his best throughout the World Cup. With the team already missing injured captain Will Skelton, the 29-year-old Kerevi would have brought vital leadership against World No.16 Portugal.
"Foketi has trained well the whole tournament and Samu has probably just been a little off," Jones told reporters on Friday in France. "He's had a tough run into the World Cup coming back from an ACL, two hamstring injuries and he just hasn't been as sharp as we'd like him to be.
"Jordy Petaia had a bit of a calf issue and he's fit now. But again with Izzy (Perese), he's trained really well the whole World Cup and we feel both those two guys can do a really good job for us against against Portugal."
Pereze said: "I'm excited. It's part of footy and if you don't get to play, you don't get to play and you've got to do your very best to prepare the team for that week. But this week I finally get an opportunity so I'm just thinking about doing my job for the boys and you know, putting a lot of pride into that jersey for everyone back home as well."
Rugby journalist Tom Decent said it would have been "unthinkable" two months ago that Kerevi could be dropped. The selection bombshell is just the latest in a number of odd moves that have raised eyebrows around the rugby world.
Kerevi has been a shadow of his former self- was more of a liability in the game against Wales
— Rugby Digest (@RugbyDigestSA) September 29, 2023
He was absolutely awful against Wales, something was wrong, thoroughly deserved to be dropped
— Greg Stephens (@gregfs23) September 29, 2023
Kerevi and Petaia were incredibly disappointing
— Derek Murray 🇦🇺🇬🇧 (@dmurray59) September 29, 2023
Koroibete has been overrated for many years and even worse in this World Cup but is still there. What a joke
— rahgby (@rahgby1) September 29, 2023
Surely, the most pathetic, green nobodies EVER on the reserve bench. Call the Medics for Eddie Jones and don't forget the strait-jacket.
— Eric Taylor (@Eccafrog) September 29, 2023
They dropped Samu Kerevi 💀
At least Donaldson-Foketi-Perese play together for the Waratahs so that makes sense.
— Thala Msutu (@ThalaMsutu77) September 29, 2023
Eddie Jones under fresh fire after historic Wallabies flop
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Jones was pushed for a definitive answer on whether or not he had been interviewed to take over as Japan coach following the World Cup. One reporter said the Australian public deserved to know whether a zoom interview took place just days before the World Cup opener.
"The only thing I'm concentrating on is Portugal," Jones responded when asked to clarify his future. "So if you want to ask about anything else, don't ask. I've already answered before, I said no, I said no previously."
Asked if was considering resigning after the Wallabies' final pool game. the 63-year-old repeated that he was "only worried about the Portuguese game". Jones said he would be the "fall-guy" if Rugby Australia were looking to blame someone for Australia's worst World Cup showing in history.
"Well, if people have got a problem with the results, they come to me, right? And at the end of the tournament I'll stand by that," the coach said. "If there needs to be a fall-guy for the World Cup, then it's obviously me.
"When you become a head coach of a team, you take on that responsibility. The playing group has been absolutely fantastic and I couldn't ask any more of them so if there needs to be someone responsible for the performance, it's me."
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