Wed, Aug 01, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Wallabies upset by Jones' defection to 'Boks

AFP, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

Former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones' defection to the Springboks has upset his former proteges but they remain upbeat about their prospects for the World Cup, coach John Connolly said yesterday.

As Australia's squad began a three-day training camp at Sydney's beachside suburb of Manly, Connolly and new captain Stirling Mortlock admitted that seeing Jones in a South African tracksuit was an unpleasant surprise for his former proteges.

"A few of the players are very upset about it," Connolly told a news conference.

Jones would have a fair insight into the personalities of the Australian team and how they play the game, which could potentially help their South African rivals, he said.

But the Wallabies, runners-up in 2003 when Australia hosted the tournament, remain optimistic about their prospects for the World Cup, which takes place in France in September.

Jones last week was seen assisting the South Africans to prepare for the tournament at a training camp in Cape Town, amid suggestions this may herald a longer-term deal.

Australian Rugby Union chief John O'Neill has criticized Jones for helping the Springboks.

But new captain Mortlock played down the significance of the move, saying Jones probably would not bring with him that much useful inside knowledge and that it simply reflected the nature of the modern game.

"To be perfectly honest I don't think there would be that much inside information that would be very useful," Mortlock said.

"It is a little bit disappointing but it reflects the nature of professional rugby these days. Players go overseas to play and likewise coaches need to coach.

"Eddie's had a huge impact on my career - a little bit mixed emotions seeing the coach coaching the 'Boks," Mortlock said.

Mortlock, whose promotion to captain over George Gregan was announced last week, said the mood in the squad was generally positive. Australia lost to England in the final in 2003, dashing domestic hopes of a victory.

"The belief and the confidence in the squad is a little better than '03," he said, saying that in 2003 the Wallabies felt they would peak during the World Cup but did not quite deliver the goods. "Our results were quite mixed."

Despite a loss to the All Blacks in the last match of the Tri-Nations series, the captain said the feeling was "pretty positive."

"Now the real deal, the World Cup, is in front of us. Everyone is pretty focused about what we have got to do in front of us," he said. "We are pretty upbeat about our prospects for the World Cup."

Mortlock admitted the discussions in the camp had sometimes been "robust" but said the atmosphere was good.

"Basically in this environment you want to get the best out of everyone," he said.

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