SAINT-ETIENNE, France -- Wallabies coach Eddie Jones has taken aim at the use of the Television Match Official [TMO] in rugby and said that while World Rugby has attempted to make the sport safer, the governing body has at the same time brought more power and, therefore, risk, into it.
Jones fronted the media on Friday morning after naming his Wallabies team to face Fiji, which may yet run out on Sunday without skipper Will Skelton after the towering lock picked up a minor calf injury on Thursday afternoon. Jones said Skelton will be given right up until kick-off to prove his fitness, with the second-rower having been sent for scans earlier in the day.
The Australia coach had little to say on the make-up of his team, but did heap praise on veteran prop James Slipper who will make his return from injury at tighthead on Sunday, a game that will see him become just the third Wallabies player to feature at four World Cups.
But the Wallabies coach had far more to say when asked about the current state of the game, describing it as a blend of "power" surges and transitional counterattacking play that had made the game "fascinating" but also heightened the level of "risk" at the same time.
"I just think the game is evolving this World Cup, the game's evolving into this 30-second bouts of absolute power; so big people playing the game, you've got these 30-second bouts of power then interspersed with a two-minute burst of like soccer/football, where there's a lot of transition and you've got to be able to play really quickly," Jones explained. "And I think it's really fascinating at the moment where the game will go next.
"World Rugby have tried to make the game safer, but they've made it more powerful, made it more powerful by having more stoppages in the game. And there's risk to that, there's risks when the game becomes more powerful.
"But I think this World Cup will be decided by who can win those power contests. But then it might be in one game, and particularly a game like Fiji where there is a lot of counterattacking, that it might be one of those football/soccer-type episodes where there is a lot of transitional play.
"So I think the game's in a really fascinating spot. Coaching wise, like how do you prepare S&C-wise for two different games is quite intriguing and then how you get the players to get the skill set to be able to play in this power game and at the same time be able to play in this transitional game."
Asked what he'd like to see in the future, Jones said it was important that an attempt was made to increase rugby's ball-in-play time while he bemoaned the greater presence of the TMO, which is using the "bunker" system at the World Cup for the first time.
Greater ball in play time would shift rugby back towards an aerobic game, and perhaps lead to a reduction in size of some players who would need to be more aerobically fit and more mobile to keep up.
"I've always said you need the game to be more continuous, the average ball-in-play is 30 seconds, the average break in the game is 70 seconds, so you encourage a power contest," Jones said. "I think we need more continuous play.
"I think our use of the TMO in rugby is fraught with danger; that we're asking a referee in the grandstand to make decisions on a different angle on the game, through video. And it's not making the game a better spectacle, it's not making it a better game for the players, and I think we're just lucky because international rugby is so popular.
"Like you look at Lille last night, 50,000 there to watch France play Uruguay; we play a practice game against France and there's 80,000 people there. International rugby is so popular we could almost put anything on the field and people are still going to come because of nationalism and patriotism of the teams.
"But I think we need to improve the game, I think we really need to improve the game and at the end of this World Cup there'll be an opportunity to do that."
Asked whether he would be open to sitting down with other coaches to help World Rugby plot a path forward, Jones said: "They [World Rugby] don't want to know."
The Wallabies will meanwhile be without star prop Taniela Tupou for Sunday's game in Saint-Etienne, with the tighthead ruled out with a hamstring strain suffered at training earlier in the week.
Jones was hopeful Tupou would be back in a "couple of weeks", likely putting him on course for a return in the quarterfinals, which the Wallabies will have all but qualified for with a win this weekend.
Australia certainly have a handy replacement in Slipper, who will play his 132nd Test in the gold jersey when the Wallabies face Fiji at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Sunday.
"Slips is one of the legends of rugby and one of the best front-rowers Australia has ever had," front-row partner Angus Bell said. "To play alongside Slips but also have a long relationship with him too, Slips helped me a lot through school even before I became a professional.
"Slips is awesome and he'll add a lot of value to the team this week on the other side of the scrum so it'll be awesome for him and we're looking forward to it because he brings a lot of edge to our defence and our maul and set-piece."