Gordon wants to be Australia’s No.1 halfback in post-Genia era
Waratahs No.9 Jake Gordon doesn't miss a beat when asked what his goals are for 2020.
"Starting halfback for the Wallabies," Gordon replies immediately.
It’s a big year ahead for Waratahs halfback Jake Gordon. Credit:Julius Dimataga
Talk about ambition. And rightly so.
Gordon is one of a number of halfbacks who, in his words, will be "licking their lips" this Super Rugby season with the key position up for grabs at Wallabies level.
When Will Genia trudged off Oita Stadium in the second half of the World Cup quarter-final against England, his glittering Test career had come to a close.
His departure had been in the pipeline for a while but for the first time since 2014, Genia had genuine competition as a starter in the form of Nic White.
However, White won't play in Australia until next season – having signed with the Brumbies for 2021 – leaving Gordon and a number of other contenders battling it out to impress new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie.
Another halfback that won't be seen in Super Rugby is Nick Phipps, who has left the Waratahs and is plying his trade for London Irish. He has 72 Tests to his name – 43 of those from the bench – and is eligible to return for the Wallabies under the Giteau Law, but Rennie's comment on Wednesday that he would prefer to pick players from Super Rugby suggests the odds are against Phipps adding to that tally.
His exit has presented Gordon, 26, with a clear run as the NSW starting halfback. The pair have jostled competitively for the position for the past three seasons, with Gordon starting in 67 per cent (2017), 53 per cent (2018) and 38 per cent (2019) of matches.
In 2018 Gordon was a member of the Wallabies' spring tour squad and made his Test debut against Italy in Padova.
Phipps (L) and Gordon (R) take a break at Waratahs training in 2018. Credit:Wolter Peeters
A taste of the Test arena and the disappointment of being overlooked during a World Cup year has sharpened Gordon's focus ahead what feels like a fresh start for Australian rugby.
"First and foremost it's about playing consistent footy here and I'd be kidding myself if I didn't have that No.9 jersey for the Wallabies in my thought process," Gordon said. "That's the goal of mine.
"I've really enjoyed the pre-season, I think it's the best physical condition I've been in."
While Rennie's arrival will inevitably result in a tweaked Wallabies team, it must be remembered that he still has to operate within a three-man selection panel.
Director of rugby Scott Johnson will remain in the role, while third selector in Michael O'Connor is set to continue as well.
When Johnson and O'Connor came on board last year, Gordon was out of favour but that could change under Rennie.
The other contenders will be Joe Powell from the Brumbies and Tate McDermott from the Reds. Powell, like Gordon, has been a fringe Wallabies squad member for the past few years.
"A new coach is coming in and he might have his different views on different players," Gordon said. "I can tell you now a few halfbacks are licking their lips for that position."
Joe Powell goes over for the Brumbies. Credit:Dion Georgopoulos
Gordon, provided he is injury free, will start for the Waratahs against the Crusaders next Saturday in Nelson, while Randwick halfback Mitch Short is favourite to sit on the bench.
He's been biding his time behind Gordon and Phipps, having come off the bench twice in 2018 to with go with a starting role in a 51-27 victory over the Melbourne Rebels.
The other option for the Waratahs is new signing Michael McDonald, an Irish-born 20-year-old who featured in last year's Junior Wallabies side. He has moved to Sydney this season from Perth, where he had lived since he was 13, and according to Gordon is an excellent communicator with a tidy kicking game.
The Waratahs will look to make a fast start in 2020, and are banking of fitness being a strength. A number of players insist they have endured the toughest pre-season they can remember.
"Everyone says every pre-season is tough and I'd honestly say this is the hardest one I've done purely because of the running loads," Gordon said. "A lot of the trainings we haven't had much rest at all. We've been wrestling and doing a lot of running and shuttles. We're trying to replicate a game.
"We'll be a very fit side this year."
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