Carter Gordon says he was “sad” to see Eddie Jones depart as Wallabies coach late last month, but the rising 22-year-old believes he – and the entire wider squad – will be better for their tough World Cup campaign.
There was deep concern from some quarters that the mental scarring from the Wallabies’ World Cup flop, where they missed the knockout stage for the first time, would be a dent too difficult to come back from.
World Cup-winning Wallabies playmaker Michael Lynagh, who presented jerseys to the group throughout the tournament in September, was one high-profile Australian figure who opened up on the tale of woes and said he was fearful the psychological damage could be devastating.
“My overriding emotion is one of sadness,” Lynagh said on BBC’s Rugby Union Daily podcast. “Australia really hasn’t fired a shot at this World Cup and it’s really disappointing.
“I feel for the players. They’re not bad players and they’ve worked really hard but when they get out on the field it just doesn’t seem to click for them.
“I feel the way this has gone there’s going to be a few of them that might struggle to get over this experience. I hope not.”
Jones’ departure was as dramatic and headline-grabbing as his remarkable return in January.
Right from the outset, the veteran coach was impressed by Gordon who, without Matt To’omua alongside him or James O’Connor before that, managed to grab the bull by the horns and lead the Rebels around and show his worth.
His fine form led him to be picked for an early April camp, before earning selection for The Rugby Championship.
By the third and final TRC Test and opening Bledisloe fixture it was Gordon who had been thrust in at fly-half, with Quade Cooper demoted.
Then Cooper was thrown to the trash heap, as Jones all in on Gordon and Ben Donaldson to be the two playmakers at the World Cup.
It was a remarkable and, ultimately, costly call as both young 10s struggled to stand up to the pressure of playing on the world stage. All the while, Cooper and Bernard Foley, who was picked for Australia A twice in 2023, were forced to watch from the sidelines.
Despite the tough campaign, which ended with playmaker missing their final pool match because of a knee-injury, Gordon said the group could rise from the ashes.
“Absolutely,” Gordon told the Daily Telegraph.
“We did take a lot away from France and the World Cup.
“It’s a young group. I think we’ve just soaked in a lot of that information and we’ll be better for it and we’ll take those leanings into the new year.”
His Wallabies teammate Jordan Petaia agreed.
“Obviously a disappointing World Cup,” he said.
“But you can only really improve from that and grow.
“As Carter said, it’s a young group so the boys will pick up a lot of experience from that campaign and take it forward into the next.”
History shows that World Cup champions can go from chumps to champs quickly.
Australia (1999), England (2003), South Africa (2007) and New Zealand (2011) all won the World Cup after being eliminated in the quarter-finals at the previous edition.
Like the Wallabies this year, it was England who was the laughingstock of international rugby after failing to progress out of the pool stage.
Four years later and Jones’ England put behind them a tough 18 months to make the World Cup final in Japan.
Going back 20 years, Jonny Wilkinson was the man at the centre of England’s World Cup triumph over the Wallabies in extra time.
Five years earlier in 1998, Wilkinson’s English side were hammered 76-0 in Brisbane.
Yet, the rocky start to his career with England didn’t do the terminal damage some fear it might for Gordon after his first year of international rugby.
“The World Cup’s always been the pinnacle of rugby,” Gordon said.
“Obviously, that was my first one so I learned a lot there.
“Just to experience rugby in France with the massive crowds, that really excites me and definitely the other boys to get the World Cup back.”
While Jones won’t coach the Wallabies ever again, the core of the group that he selected will.
Indeed, Jones’ squad was the youngest competing in France with only five players from the 33-man World Cup squad over 30. It was also the youngest Wallabies squad to go to a World Cup since 1991.
Despite most Australians left filthy at the way Jones walked out on Australia and his links to Japan, Gordon said he was “sad” to see Jones go.
“I haven’t spoken to him since he’s resigned but he was unreal for me,” Gordon said.
“Obviously, he was the one who kind of went out on a limb and backed me right from the start so I’m really grateful for what he did there.
“I definitely learnt a lot from him this year. I’m obviously sad to see him go.”
Gordon, a scratch golfer who played at the pro-am of the Australian PGA at Royal Queensland, said he was back training with the Rebels after his knee-injury on the eve of the Wallabies’ win over Portugal.
“The knee’s good,” he said.
“I’ve had four weeks off, completely no running or anything like that. I just wanted to see whether it would heal on its own and it did, which it hasn’t.
“So I’m back into training now and pretty much able to do everything and anything I want to and it hasn’t flared up or caused me any trouble since so it’s good.”