It’s a World Cup year and the Wallabies have everything to prove.
Andrew Slack is a deserved inductee into the Australian Rugby Union Hall of Fame Class of 2010. I think Slack would currently be remembered as one of Australia’s four greatest rugby captains (along with Farr-Jones, Eales, and Thornett).
Slack was one of those incredibly solid players who, at his best, never made a mistake. He definitely wasn’t a player of flair, but when he did things he did them well. So well that it was easy to understate his ability.
Like the outstanding Brendan Moon (who I hope will make the Hall of Fame in the next decade), Slack didn’t seem to be a player of great flair because he didn’t need flair.
He could make some of the more difficult stuff seem simple without needing to do something that would make him stand out – the mark of a well-balanced player.
Despite perhaps not being regarded as talented as a Campese or Ella, I have no doubt people would have a higher estimation of his abilities if Australia had enjoyed greater success on their famous 1981/82 tour of Britain, which brought disappointing results for the Wallabies, despite potentially being Australia’s most talented side ever.
The Irish media loved it when Michael O’Connor scored a try against Ireland – an Australian with an Irish name did well! But it was Slack that made the sidestep and the pass that enabled him to score.
Brendan Moon bamboozled two Scotsmen on that tour with a show of the ball, unleashing Slack for a try – but it was Slack who touched the ball twice and who, by a desire to be involved, was the necessary link in scoring that try.
Mark Ella once unhesitatingly called Slack the best Australian player on that tour.
And while the likes of Ella, Poidevin, and Campese shone wonderfully in the 1984 Grand Slam tour (likely the greatest Australian side ever) I can’t resist to mention a try Campese scored in the game against Scotland that came from some Slack excellence.
Slacky was known in the squad for not having a very good long pass, and after the Llanelli game Slack stayed behind in the pouring rain, practicing his long passes against a brick wall.
Early in the game against Scotland the Wallabies pulled a rehearsed move.
Ella threw a cut-out pass to Gould, who took the ball into contact, taking two players with him (an underrated aspect of Gould’s game). Gould offloaded in the tackle to Slack, and there Campese was on the wing, about 15 to 20 meters away from Slack.
Slacky attempted the long pass, and it couldn’t have been more perfect. It hit Campese right on the chest and away he was for his first Test try on that tour.
When people talk about Slack, I’m reminded of something Rod MacQueen wrote about David Campese in his autobiography ‘One Step Ahead’.
MacQueen states Campese was likely Australia’s most talented rugby player ever. However, not only didn’t Campese’s opponents know what he’d do next – neither did his teammates!
MacQueen noted that this made Campese’s game a very successful ingredient for Australia, however (and importantly) you couldn’t have 15 Campos in a side because ‘the left hand wouldn’t know what the right was doing.’ It was a very astute point.
And this point illustrates Slack’s great value to Australia. In a team with plenty of free spirits such as Ella and Campese, Slack brought direction, discipline and stability. In a word: LEADERSHIP.
I regard Mark Ella as one of my all-time favourite athletes in any sport, but I do think he excelled better under Slack’s leadership without the burden of leadership weighing him down.
But for all that, I have to say I was surprised by the choice of Andrew Slack as the first inductee into the class of 2010.
Arguably a better outside centre… actually arguably Australia’s greatest ever player, was Trevor Allen. Shockingly he has not been inducted into Australian Rugby’s Hall of Fame.
I have to say Trevor Allen is, in my mind, without doubt the most deserving player not currently in the Hall of Fame… by far!
Slack’s Queensland teammate, Michael Lynagh, stands as arguably one of Australia’s five greatest players. With the exception of Matthew Burke, nobody in Australian rugby history comes close to Michael Lynagh in terms of having such a broad range of point-scoring capabilities.
If you were to ask somebody in the UK who are the best players in Australia’s rugby history, Lynagh would be one of the first five players mentions nearly every time (he also has a reputation as the nicest sports commentator ever over there).
I also fear that the Hall of Fame might become dominated by backs, as historically Australia has probably been better at producing outstanding backs than outstanding forwards. Sooner or later Simon Poidevin must be inducted.
And last year I wrote a column stating that Alan Jones absolutely must be considered for the Hall of Fame. I still strongly believe he deserves to be the first coach put into the Hall of Fame, as Australia truly became a world power under his coaching reign (21 wins out of 30 games is insane!).
But if Australia became a world power under Alan Jones’ coaching reign, it also became a world power under Slack’s captaincy.
I am very happy to see Australian rugby recognize Andrew Slack for his massive contributions to the game in Australia.
For too long his ability has been understated. Slack is unquestionably a deserving inductee into the ARU Hall of Fame.