There was a first day at school anxiety among the Wallabies on Monday as the Eddie Jones era began in earnest at a training camp on the Gold Coast.
Brumbies halfback Ryan Lonergan and Reds centre Josh Flook had morning media duties after undergoing medicals and before they had actually met the legendary coach.
Flook – tagged as Australia’s Conrad Smith clone – had never spoken to Jones before the three day camp, while Lonergan’s only interaction was a quick chat at a trial game in Wagga Wagga.
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But both uncapped players rightly had their guards up given Jones’ hard nosed reputation and well documented love of mind games and curve balls.
“Yeah, I’d say there’s a different feeling,” said Lonergan, picked with Brumbies teammate Nic White as one of only two halfbacks in the squad.
“There’s probably a bit of angst getting around. We don’t really know what to expect yet, but it’s very early. I haven’t actually seen him yet…
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“I mean, you can be as ready as you can but we don’t really know what’s coming. So I guess we’ll see what happens, just open my mind and expect anything really…
“Yeah, it is quite nerve racking… so I’m still nervous but you’ve got to try and get the right first impression there.”
Flook, 21, has the advantage of also being able to cover wing and didn’t shy away from the comparisons to two-time Rugby World Cup-winning All Blacks centre Smith – known for his accuracy and maturity in both attack and defence.
“It was very cool to be able to put my name next to his, in a similar player,” Flook said.
“But no, growing up I kind of moved throughout the backline so I watched a bit of everyone. Started as a 10, like I think we all do but moved to 13 back in grade 10.
“So ever since then, I’ve definitely tried to devote, develop my game around him because he’s one of the best in the world to do it.
“So it’s pretty cool that my name has been linked to him.”
The Wallabies open their 2023 campaign against the world champion Springboks on July 9 (AEST) in Pretoria.
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Jones explained what he was hoping to achieve at his first camp, while pointing out the team’s poor record under predecessor Dave Rennie.
“It’s like this honeymoon period where everyone’s feeling good about the team, so very enthusiastic,” Jones said on his podcast Eddie.
“But also cognisant of the fact that we’ve got a fair bit of work to do to go from a team that’s winning at 38 per cent.
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“To win the World Cup you’ve got to win at 100 per cent. So 62 per cent is a big gap. Super Rugby performances haven’t been at the level we would expect and, therefore, we’ve got a lot of work to do which is daunting but also exciting.
“So a few different emotions… you walk in, first day, you’ve got some ideas with what you want to do, ideas about how you want to play, ideas of how you want to operate off the field, but at the end of the day you’ve got to do some work with them and find out where you can go…
“Talking about this camp, this is one of the central themes – ‘how are you going to find a bit more in yourself’?”
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