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With Australia’s Grand Slam tour coming-up, I thought it would be fun to rank my ten favourite moments from the 1984 Grand Slam tour.
This is my favourite Australian side of all time, not just because they were a great side, but because they showed the world that running rugby can be winning rugby.
10. Stan Pilecki makes a go of it against the Barbarians
This part of the game unfolded thus: Serge Blanco kicked the ball away and some felt he was taken out a bit late. The crowd started to boo.
But while they were booing, Australia started a marvellous counter-attack. Andrew Slack had the ball and suddenly had run out of support.
He started to look around and who was there? The 37 year-old Stan Pikecki in support.
Pilecki, a prop, had made the effort to run back and support Andrew Slack. Pilecki was running for his life – which is to say he was running at about a jogging pace for a normal person. He eventually was tackled, but flipped a pass over his shoulder – not because he had a Campese sense of awareness, but because he knew somebody had to be behind him at the speed he was running.
The ball came to Slack and he then passed to Steve Williams and ‘Swill’ went over for a tremendous try.
It’s not often you get to see a prop play a role in the running game, and in a sense it was a shame Pilecki didn’t score the try. But he played an important role in it, and it was great to see such a character play a part in this try.
It was even more impressive considering the fact he seemed to be having a little bit of trouble in the scrums, with Iain Milne boring into him. Pilecki must have been stuffed when he supported Slack, but he did a fantastic job and put a smile on my face.
9. Mark Ella’s 4th try
Against Scotland Mark Ella achieved a personal grand slam of tries. In a way it was fitting because Ella had scored a try in every test against the Home Unions for the 1977/78 Schoolboys.
However, it was an interesting feat because I never associated Ella with being a try scorer during his international career. To me Mark Ella was more a player about providing opportunities to his outside backs. In his career he probably set-up 10 times more tries than he actually scored.
So it was nice that things fell his way and he scored four tries.
His try against Scotland can be attributed to support play. Gould had Campese in his outside, Ella on his inside. Ella’s opposite number (I forget who it was, Rutherford didn’t play in that game) dropped of Ella, and that was a fatal mistake.
8. Steve Cutler dominating line-outs
With the exception of the Irish game, Cutler was the king of line-outs. The man Gary Whetton once said, on his day, was quite possibly the best line-out jumper in the world.
Cutler was particularly supreme against Wales where the Welsh line-out, which contained Bob Norster, could not win much line-out ball. What line-out ball they did get was very sloppy.
As JPR Williams said afterwards the Welsh didn’t even have “enough imagination to thump someone in the line-up when the ref wasn’t looking.”
In fact, I rate the first half against Wales in 1984 as a superior first half to the much vaunted first half of the 1991 World Cup semi-final. In the 1991 semi-final the Australian forwards were phenomenal in their mobility and cohesion, but they lost a tremendous amount of line-out ball in that game.
Australia lost something to the effect of one third of line-out throws in that first half.
The first 20 minutes against Wales were flawless in every aspect. The line-outs were supreme, the scrum was powerful, the forwards were moving around the park as one. It was just a complete performance. You could argue the Welsh were inferior competition compared to the 1991 All Blacks, but I don’t think the difference is too large.
People forget Wales and Scotland (Scotland won the Five Nations in 1984) were the most highly rated Home Nation teams in 1984, and after a scrappy win against Ireland, many people were expecting the Welsh to beat the Wallabies.
7. “Mark Ella, OH WHAT MAGNIFICENT HANDS!” – Gordon Bray
Australia won some sloppy line-out ball. The ball came to Roger Gould who threw a horrific long ball that was going to land a few metres in front of Ella.
The ball swirled, and spun, and dipped, and landed around Mark Ella’s shoelaces. Ella, never ruffed under pressure, ran forward, leaned down, was completely off balance, and the ball shot through his hands and onto Campese.
More importantly, Australia scored a try off this play, when Campese passed the ball to Poidevin.
It was just a ridiculous moment of class. In addition to Mark Ella stretching the boundaries of support play like nobody else I have ever seen, I can also say I’ve never seen anybody with his hands.
I don’t think until Farr-Jones came along that Ella ever had a truly great halfback paired with him, yet it never seemed to matter.
You could pass the ball anywhere to him and the ball would go out to the centres in a flash. As he said to Nick Farr-Jones, “Whether it’s good ball or bad ball, just throw it in my direction.”
Actually while I’m on the topic of Ella’s hand, one of my favourite moments of the Grand Slam tour which I won’t include in this list, was the way Mark Ella started the Scottish Test. He looked nervous and fumbled the ball the first time it went in his direction.
The reason it’s one of my favourite moments is because the Scottish crowd let-out a gigantic gasp! There was nothing more shocking to the British crowds than Mark Ella dropping a football.
6. Anytime Simon Poidevin played the link-man
Simon Poidevin is incredibly underrated in terms of his ability to keep the ball alive. As a flanker, he played exactly the kind of role the ’84 Wallabies required, that of somebody who would support the backs anytime there was no where for them to go.
Against England Poidevin scored a try by trailing David Campese. Rory Underwood was about to bring Campo down when Poidevin showed up, ready to take the pass and scored the try.
Against Ireland Poidevin blew a try with a pretty bad mistake, but he wouldn’t have been able to be in that position without supporting Campese. Against Wales when Farr-Jones and Campese went down the blindside, Campese swerved back inside and found Poidevin.
This time Poidevin made the pass count, and he found Michael Lynagh (who scored under the sticks). In the Barbarians game the Australian’s made a midfield break after some tremendous interplay between Ella, Lynagh and Slack.
After Lynagh made the break, Poidevin was on the inside to take the pass from Lynagh and scored another try.
Poidevin was such a supreme athlete. Bob Dwyer once said he was professional long before the game went professional. Gareth Edwards once said until you saw Poidevin live you couldn’t imagine how much territory he covered in each game.
He was strong enough that he could harass the opposition at every moment during the game.
However, he could also out-sprint many of the Australian backs, and when that ball went wide Poidevin was there to keep the play going. What people don’t realise is there aren’t many flankers fast and athletic enough to do what Poidevin did in that tour, while being strong enough to be a nuisance in the rucks and mauls.
In that sense, Poidevin was the perfect balance of speed and strength. In a sense it’s a shame Mark Ella retired because I really haven’t seen Poidevin play the same role as often since Ella retired. That’s not a knock on Michael Lynagh, whom I consider one of Australia’s five best players ever.
But Australia’s style changed after Ella retired.
In some respects Simon Poidevin was Australia’s best player from the 80s. That’ll create some discussion here at The Roar, but Poidevin was so essential to the Wallabies scoring so many tries.
The thing I respect most about Simon Poidevin is that he demonstrates the importance of one per cent. I swear Poidevin tried 1 per cent harder than every other person on the rugby field. He was all fire and passion, and his competitive nature was such that his extra one per cent effort was the reason Australia won so many games.
It’s a shame people underrate him because his hands weren’t always great.
5. David Campese’s inside-out running Vs Robert Ackerman
During the Welsh game, Campese was one-on-one against Robert Ackerman. You’d pick Campese to beat Ackerman with his magic feet nine times out of 10.
Yet Ackerman brought Campese down with a tremendous tackle that sent him into touch. To add a bit of heat to the moment, Ackerman they shoved Campese’s head into the mud, which went undetected by the referee.
We all know the story after that: When Campese, Alan Jones, and Michael Lynagh, were greeted by Ackerman after the game at a Welsh hotel, Ackerman reportedly said, “I didn’t think your backs were any good today.”
A few weeks later during the Barbarians game Campese had the ball with only Ackerman in the road. For 40 to 50 metres Campese zigged and he zagged, making Ackerman look over each should as he came closer to the try line. Campese maybe overdid it a little bit, and could have beaten Ackerman without doing his final wiggle.
Campese was tackled just before the line and he got his pass of to Michael Hawker, but he certainly made his point – not with his words (probably his more preferred method), but with the feet.
4. Nick Farr-Jones’ try Vs Scotland
Audacious is the word. The best thing about this try was nobody knew what had happened until the referee raised his arm for the try. The commentators didn’t keep-up with it, nor did the crowd – they were confused. Absolutely nobody knew what had happened!
Australia had called a short line-out – a three-man line-out. Farr Jones came running across to take the pass from Lawton and with a side-step and a bit of strength Farr-Jones scored a try in the corner.
That try couldn’t have been scored by many players of the time as Farr-Jones was bigger and more robust than most halfbacks of the time, and this enabled him to power over the line.
The try is a great example of the free-spirited manner in which the Grand Slam Wallabies played the game.
3. Campese’s second try Vs Scotland
This try was awarded the try of the series. Scotland were counter-attacking when Peter Grigg intercepted the ball while running backwards!
With no where to go he passed the ball to Mark Ella, who once again found his kindred spirit in David Campese.
Campese veered to the left and beat his opponent and passed the ball to Steve Tuynman. Campese then supported Tuynman on the inside to take the pass.
Scottish eightman John Beattie was coming across in cover, but Campese simply out-sprinted him to the try-line for a terrific counter-attacking movement
2. Mark Ella’s try Vs Ireland
Mark Ella was the difference between Australia winning and losing this game. It was a strange game in the sense that Ireland didn’t strike me as a great side, but they were able to upset Australia to the point where the game became very messy.
They showed tremendous fighting spirit, and really ‘muddied’ the context, making it difficult for Australia to get any clean ball.
Steve Cutler was nullified to an extent by the dynamic jumping of Donal Lenihan. Australia also blew three tries in this game. The first came after a jaw-dropping break from Campese led to Simon Poidevin being one-on-one with Irish fullback Hugo MacNeill with winger Matt Burke on his outside.
If Poidevin had one weakness in his game in those days, it was his hands, and after being caught in two minds he threw a forward pass, bombing what was a certain try. Later Australia could have scored a pushover try, but the ball squirted out at the wrong moment and a loose pass destroyed a good moment to attack.
Later Campese and Ella, the kindred spirits, linked together marvellously to keep the ball alive. Ella chipped the ball forward for Campese to run onto. Campese had nobody in front of him, and all that was required was a small kick to put the ball over the try line and to fall on it.
The kick didn’t come off right and Campese missed his opportunity.
While all this was happening Ireland were staying in touch and hit the lead with 15 minutes to go. Ireland had the momentum and the crowd sense an upset.
Ella dropped two magnificent goals in this game that kept Australia in touch any time Ireland looked to have any dominance. With five minutes remaining Ella scored what I consider the best of his six international tries.
What made Ella’s try so special was the way he shadowed every player who touched the ball. Ella slipped a quick pass to Michael Lynagh who made the break.
Ella shadowed him.
Then Lynagh passed to Matt Burke, and Ella veered off in the right direction and shadowed him. Then the ball came to Campese who had two defenders to beat, and Ella looped around him to score the try. If you watch a replay of the try, you’ll notice Ella passed the ball to Lynagh on the right hand side of the field about 10 metres in.
When he scored the try he was in the left corner. Then ask yourself why no other Australian player was near Campese to support him? Ella read the play all the way better than anybody and there’s no logical reason why he should have been the player to take the ball off Campese in this game.
I’ve always said Ella stretched the boundaries of support play more than any other five-eighth I have seen, and his try against Ireland is proof of that.
1. The Pushover Try Vs Wales
Can there be any doubt this was the defining moment of the 1984 Grand Slam tour?
Actually what I remember more than this try was the very first scrum of the game, which took place deep in the Wallaby territory.
The whole of Cardiff Arms started to roar, sensing the Welsh had a chance to attack. The Wallabies’ scrum sent them backwards at a rate of knots and suddenly the crowd went silent as if somebody had pressed the mute button on my television.
Topo Rodriguez gave the Welsh prop Ian Eidman such a thrashing that Ian Stevens was switched to tight-head. Rodriguez then drove into Stevens so hard that his rib cartilages snapped and he had to be taken off the field. The Welsh players later confessed they knew they couldn’t win when their scrum was so comprehensively beaten in the early stages of the game.
The Welsh scrum, it had been said, was where Wales would really sort Australia out, and Australia knocked-off their greatest strength right from the start.
But the pushover try itself was the defining moment. Lawton made the call of ‘Samson’ and Australia did to the Welsh what they had done to so many countries in the 70s.
It was a defining moment for Australia also in the sense that Australia has generally been more renowned for their back play than their forward play. That try signified that Australia was now a complete side from top to bottom.