The forgotten element of Eddie’s coaching that can help the Wallabies rise again
The Wallabies’ 2023 World Cup campaign might have been a disaster on and off the field, but emerging tight-head prop Zane Nonggorr believes Eddie Jones’ “dedication” to helping the playing group improve will eventually pay dividends.
Jones not only picked the youngest Wallabies squad to go to the World Cup since the game turned professional, but it was the youngest squad at last year’s tournament with an average age of 25.8 and 20 caps.
That inexperience ultimately played out on the field, with the Wallabies failing to progress out of the pool stage for the first time in their history.
But it wasn’t just the youthfulness that was shown up, with Jones’ desire to rip up the playbook and do away with structure whilst having an inexperienced coaching team to implement the “plans” exposed brutally.
Indeed, axed Wallaby Quade Cooper said “we didn’t really have a plan” under Jones while experienced halfback Nic White called it an “experiment”.
“There were glimpses of it [working] but after playing it a fair few times, we started to figure out it was not quite working. We were in the process of fixing it, but it was all too little, too late,” White told The Roar.
But one thing that can’t be denied is the Wallabies worked hard under Jones.
Nonggorr, who was handed a surprise Test debut by Jones, said the main thing that stood out under the veteran coach was his desire to see the team improve.
“The one-on-ones me and Schouppy [rookie loose-head prop Blake Schoupp] would do where Eddie would bring us over after training and we’d just have to go at each other,” Nonggorr said.
“The environment that we were in was about how much you’re willing to put in and learn to get better.
“I’m really close with Schouppy, but he’s screaming at you to try and go harder. It was all about getting better. I guess, his dedication to get us better [stood out].”
Nonggorr, who said he would “definitely be tuning into” Stan’s documentary into the 2023 World CUp campaign that premiers next month, said he was considerably further along in his development after last year’s experience inside the Wallabies set up.
“I think I’m leaps and bounds ahead of where I was this time last year,” Nonggorr said.
“Just because training in that environment in France with that calibre of player – Slips [James Slipper], Angus Bell, training around Nella [Taniela Tupou] obviously – being able to train with those boys and also around the field, playing against the Wallabies players, the quicker players, just training at that higher level, it made me take my training to that level.
“Coming back to pre-season and having Jeff [Toomaga-Allen] and Alex [Hodgman] around, improving my scrum, pre-season has been very tough, so I’m just trying to keep that level all the way throughout pre-season and hopefully it’ll translate into games and I’ll have a good season.”
With massive shoulders and tree-trunk legs, Nonggorr has the physique and level-head to develop into something special.
It’s why investment into tight-head props is essential, with South Africa’s Frans Malherbe, Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong and France’s Uini Antonio at the top of their game in their early thirties.
Helping the development of Nonggorr, as well as fellow rising talent Massimo De Lutiis, are former All Blacks props Toomaga-Allen and Hodgman, who were two of Les Kiss’ first recruitments when he signed on to replace Brad Thorn.
“The experience they’re bringing in is invaluable,” Nonggorr said.
“Just the standards that they drive, how they challenge us young props and also the older ones in the team. They’re really driving the standards to compete in every session and every scrum; everything you do they’re ensuring our standards are really high around the breakdown, lineout lifts, scrumming.
“It’s great for them to share those experiences.”
Having returned to the Reds fresh and ready for 2024, Nonggorr said the frustration of not performing at last year’s World Cup had motivated him for more.
“It was a dream come true to play for the Wallabies and play in a World Cup, but I don’t want it to just be a one-time thing,” he said.
“Hopefully I can play the best I can in Super Rugby and help the Reds go well, and hopefully that’ll be enough to see me get picked again in the squad.
“It’s definitely given me more motivation because it was just a dream come true.”
The Reds kick-start their Super Rugby preparations on Saturday, as they host the Western Force at Ballymore.