House hold, Bledisloe Cup, World Cup winning names such as Gregan, Kearns, Campese, Larkham, Horan and most pertinently Eales only exist in memory for Wallabies followers. As the old adage goes “You don’t know how good you have it, till it’s gone” rings true for most Australian fans at present.
John Eales encompasses all the values of what make up Australian rugby scripture, he had all the attributes coaches could want in a player and later in his career as a captain. Leadership, athleticism, a one club man, beat the All Blacks more than he lost to them, two time Rugby World Cup champion and last but not least his goal kicking accuracy as a lock.
He is first and a foremost a Queenslander and donned a red jersey in over 100 games and whilst success was hard to come by at provincial level, he more than made up for it playing for Australia. Part of 1991 team that won the World Cup, that early taste of success would spur him on to forge his own chapter as captain in 1999.
He credits that early win as a minor blueprint of how to win Rugby’s grandest showpiece, learning under the tutelage of the legendary captain Nick Farr Jones in handling those World Cup pressure moments. His team in ’99 also had it all with world class and experienced, battle hardened players in every position, which is a must in his opinion to have any chance of tasting beer out of the Cup.
Including a robust and dominant tight five which meant their devastating backline was receiving front foot ball to run onto, and more often than not put points on their opponent. Their style of play was streetwise, enterprising and incisive and uniquely Australian, a far cry from today’s current team as they seem almost confused about how they want to play.
Eales majored in Psychology at University and perhaps partly gives us an insight in to what made him such a superb leader of men. His ability to get the best out of his team corresponds in his dealings with each team member separately, owing to different personalities. He states that most players “need the stick, whereas others need a carrot” in tailoring his leadership approach that way, he got the best out of all his players and thus the team exceeded as a collective.
He captained the Wallabies in 55 Test matches which heralded a golden era for Australian Rugby, whereby the Bledisloe Cup was more equally shared by the All Blacks and Wallabies. He is etched into folklore for his dramatic last minute penalty goal to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand to win back the Bledisloe in 1998. Scoring 173 points for Australia in his career, of those points only two came from tries the rest came from 34 penalties and 31 conversions.
He rates the current Wallaby crop for the World Cup this year are behind the curve as to where they would want to be playing as a team. However he also believes the All Blacks are out on their own and any of the top nations has the ability to beat the other on any given day. Thus he rates Australia’s chances of going deep in the tournament to not necessarily be a guarantee but if they turn up with right game plan and mental commitment – on the day they can beat anybody.
As the old adage goes “Nobody’s perfect” it being a rather apt nickname for Australia’s most successful rugby player and legitimately the world’s best kicking lock. What Aussies fans would give to have a player and leader of his calibre on the plane to Tokyo.
Written By Brandon Going