Are you sitting comfortably? Then close your eyes, and let me tell you a story. It is a story about two brothers divided by a common code: rugby union and rugby league.
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Simon Poidevin is a Wallaby legend. In terms of what he meant to Australian rugby, and the pride and passion with which he played the game, he means as much to the green and gold as Mark Loane or John Eales.
What separated Poidevin from the rest was his ability to give an extra one percent effort, and that one percent was what won Australia many Tests.
He’s the perfect example of someone who got as much out of his ability from sheer guts and determination.
Here are 10 outstanding Simon Poidevin moments from his career.
First Test Try thanks to Mark Loane
The first Test between Australia and France in 1981 was special for Simon Poidevin for two reasons.
Firstly, Poidevin scored his first Test try in this Test.
Secondly, Poidevin had always expressed a desire to play with Mark Loane, but this was not possible in 1980, as Loane was in South Africa.
But Australia’s greatest ever eightman returned to captain the side in 1981.
Former Australian flanker Simon Poidevin once wrote that Loane “was something of a god, and I guess my feeling was the same as a young actor getting a bit part in a movie with Dustin Hoffmann.”
“Loaney was a huge inspiration, and I tailed him around the field hoping to feed off him whenever he made one of those titanic bursts where he’d split the defence.”
“Sticking to him in that Test paid off handsomely, because Loaney splintered the Frenchmen in one charge, gave to me and I went for the line for all I was worth. I saw Blanco coming at me out of the corner of my eye, but was just fast enough to make the corner for my first Test try. I walked back with the whole of the grandstand yelling and cheering. God and Loaney had been good to me.”
Second Test against New Zealand 1982
The last 20 minutes of this Test must rank among the most nerve-wracking in Wallabies history.
After sprinting to a 19-3 lead, the Wallabies’ fitness and discipline were tested in the last 20 minutes.
All Black winger Bernie Fraser scored a try that brought the score to 16-19, and from there on in, the All Blacks had all the possession.
Australia had little if any capacity in their tight five to impact the last 20 minutes of this Test.
The Test descended into a question of whether Australia’s defence could ‘hold on’ for 10 final minutes.
The tackles made by Peter Grigg, Mark Ella, and the back row of Poidevin, Roche and Lucas were sensational.
The Australian back row were sorely beaten in the first Test, and came into this Test with a desire to prove something to the All Blacks.
Poidevin himself acknowledges in his wonderful autobiography ‘For Love Not Money’ that he was sorely outplayed by Graham Mourie in the first Test.
The All Blacks had one final chance to win the Test, and weren’t far from their try-line when the ball came loose.
Poidevin and Roche dived onto the ball and sealed any chance the All Blacks had of regaining possession.
Footage of this Test shows a brutal All Black pack furiously kicking and rucking Poidevin, which unquestionably would have left him with cuts, but Poidevin could not be moved.
Poidevin and Roche began laughing while the All Blacks kicked and stomped Poidevin’s body.
But the Test was won. The whistle blew. Australia had just pulled-off one of their greatest victories in history.
The 1984 Grand Slam Tour
Simon Poidevin was Australia’s outstanding forward of the 1984 Grand Slam Tour.
He scored a try against England by trailing and supporting David Campese.
He scored a try in the Barbarians game, off a Michael Lynagh pass, after some incredible interplay between Ella-Lynagh-Slack.
His capacity to link up with the backs was phenomenal.
Against Wales, David Campese made a sensational break, this time down the blindside. As he was confronted by the Welsh cover defence, he swerved toward the centre of the field, and passed it to… Poidevin.
In one quick swift motion Poidevin drew a Welsh defender, and passed the ball to Michael Lynagh, who scored under the posts. It was a nice pass from a Wallaby great who wasn’t always known for having the best hands.
Welsh legend Gareth Edwards once remarked how astonished he was by how much territory Poidevin covered in every game he played.
Poidevin was simply an essential type of loose forward for the expansive style of rugby the Grand Slam Wallabies produced.
1986 Tour to New Zealand
Initially I wasn’t going to list the Wallabies 1986 Tour to New Zealand among Poidevin’s highlights, because no one Poidevin moment stood out as the highlight of this tour, though of course Poidevin had a good tour and was an important part of Australia’s triumph.
But, in his autobiography Poidevin regards this as his greatest ever triumph, so I have to include it in this list.
Here’s what Poidevin wrote:
“Year in and year out the All Blacks have been our most difficult opponents. I’ve been trampled by the best of them. New Zealanders are parochial about their teams and have every right to be proud of them. The French in France are extremely difficult to beat, but the All Blacks are totally uncompromising and the whole nation lives the game religiously. The game itself over there is not dirty, just extremely hard. They’re mostly big strapping country boys who won’t take any nonsense from anyone, and week after week they play some of the hardest provincial Rugby in the world. Rucking is the lifeblood of their play. If you wind up on the wrong side of a ruck, you’ll finish the game bloodied or with your shorts, jerseys or socks peeled from your limbs by a hundred studs. Maybe I’m a masochist, but I somehow enjoy playing them. They are the greatest Rugby team in the world, and to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand in a series as we did in 1986 is the ultimate in Rugby.”
Buck Shelford punches Simon Poidevin (Randwick v All Blacks – 1988)
This is the most important match of rugby in the Simon Poidevin story.
In early 1988, newly reappointed Australian coach Bob Dwyer stripped Poidevin of the Australian captaincy.
Following a disappointing 1987 World Cup, Poidevin was dropped by Alan Jones for the one-off Test against the All Blacks in 1987.
Poidevin regained the captaincy for Australia’s tour to Argentina in 1987.
Now stripped of the Australian captaincy, Poidevin wanted to exit the game of rugby on his own terms.
He duly retired.
Shortly following his retirement, the All Blacks commenced their 1988 Tour to Australia. This was a mighty team – perhaps the greatest rugby side of all time.
Sensing that Randwick would throw everything at them, the All Blacks selected a side containing 13 of their starting line-up.
The Galloping Greens scored two tries to one.
The final score of 9 – 25 belies what was an incredibly competitive match, until several Grant Fox penalties in the last 20 minutes took the game away from Randwick.
A highpoint of the match was Poidevin’s constant pestering of the All Blacks.
With the match out of reach for Randwick, Poidevin continued to bother the All Blacks, and in particular, All Black captain Buck Shelford.
Frustrated with how Poidevin somehow kept finding a way through all the mauls the All Blacks were forming, Shelford snapped, grabbed Poidevin in a headlock, and threw a flurry of punches into his face.
Years later when asked who his greatest opponent was, Shelford named two players: Laurent Rodriguez of France, and Simon Poidevin of Australia. He highlighted Poidevin as the opposition player he respected the most.
Poidevin was rejuvenated following this match. So much so that Bob Dwyer asked him if he wished to come back. Poidevin’s obvious answer was ‘yes.’
We can be thankful that Poidevin played in this match and came out of retirement.
Australia v New Zealand (2nd Blesidloe Cup Test – 1988)
This All Blacks side went undefeated from 1987 until late 1990. The only minor blemish in their record was this famous draw from 1988.
This is my favourite Bledisloe Cup Test of all time.
Much like the British Lions in the third Test against New Zealand from 1993, the 1988 All Blacks simply weren’t prepared for the surprising energy of this Australian side.
The All Blacks had thumped the Wallabies in the first Test, and simply weren’t expecting the Australian forwards to play with the intensity and speed that they did.
The heroes of the day were Lloyd Walker, making his Test debut at five-eighth, playing a Man of the Match performance, Andrew Leeds at fullback kicking beautifully at the sticks, and the entire Australian back row, with Poidevin leading the charge.
Poidevin had actually suggested to Bob Dwyer prior to this Test that he should select a new exciting eightman – Tim Gavin.
This Test marks the first time Poidevin and Gavin played together, and with Poidevin leading the charge, Gavin made a good debut. Credit also goes to the feisty Jeff Miller.
The fitness of the Australian forwards waned in the last 20 minutes of this Test, and the All Blacks salvaged a draw from what was, I believe, the most intense Test between Australia and New Zealand ever played.
Australia v England (Sydney – 1991)
Simon Poidevin was an extremely controversial selection for the one-off Test against the Five Nation Champion English side of 1991.
Jeff Miller was, with complete unanimity among multiple reports, Australia’s Man of the Match in their thumping of a hapless Welsh side – the same Welsh side that Rod MacQueen’s NSW side scored 73 points against (with Campese scoring five tries).
It was Miller who beat Poidevin for Test selection.
Then Dwyer controversially dropped Miller for the Test against England, on form, claiming that he required Poidevin’s strength.
Poidevin was said to be shocked when he heard he was recalled to the Test side.
The ever-affable Australian vice-captain Michael Lynagh uncharacteristically went public and criticised Australian coach Bob Dwyer for dropping Miller.
Claims even surfaced that NSW bias lied behind Dwyer’s surprising decision.
Forever to his credit, Bob Dwyer got it right by selecting Simon Poidevin.
In what Dwyer has described as the greatest performance by an Australian side that he’s ever been involved with, Australia methodically dismantled the English side 40-15.
The most pleasing aspect of Australia’s win was the high praise Australia’s back row received.
Tim Gavin played arguably the best Test he ever played for Australia.
Many of Australia’s tries came from plays off the back of scrums that incorporated Australia’s backrowers and backs.
Many of these back row plays were devised by Rod MacQueen, and implemented by his NSW side that destroyed Wales.
In hindsight, the back row of Ofahengaue-Poidevin-Gavin may be the greatest Australian back row I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly up there with Finegan-Smith-Kefu.
Dwyer did the right thing reinstating the cohesive NSW back row, Poidevin played a ‘blinder’, and his Test spot was never at any point in question during the 1991 World Cup.
Australia v Ireland (Lansdowne Road – 1991)
Everybody recalls the famous ending to this Test, when Michael Lynagh called “cut-two-loop” – a play that he ran about six times that day – supported David Campese Mark Ella-style, and saved the Test for Australia.
But what people forget was the play preceeding this moment.
Following the instructions of the on-field captain Michael Lynagh (Farr-Jones was injured), the Australians kicked long from the re-start, forcing the Irish to kick the ball into touch.
The kick was muffled, and Australia had a line-out in their 22. John Eales (who else?) won the line-out from Australia.
Lynagh called a play that brought David Campese towards the forwards.
What gets forgotten is that as a maul formed around Campese, the Irish began to shove and for a brief moment it looked as if a scrum would be called in favour of Ireland.
Poidevin latched onto Campese like a barnacle, and got a pair of hands onto the ball. With the last shove prior to the referee’s whistle, Poidevin gave Australia the tiniest bit of ‘go forward’, and a scrum was called in Australia’s favour.
Watch the replay, if you will, and you’ll see Poidevin dangling off his feet, while trying to show the referee that he would have regained possession of the ball.
It was the most important ‘one percenter’ in Poidevin’s career.
The next play Australia scored. But what often goes forgotten is how close Australia came to losing the ball, before Poidevin saved the day!
Micky Skinner tackles Simon Poidevin (Australia v England – World Cup Final)
Amidst names like Winterbottom, Richards and Teague, Micky Skinner is an underrated English forward.
The 1991 World Cup quarter-final between England and France is best remembered for his incredible tackle that drove a French player backwards about 10 meters.
What goes forgotten is that one of the biggest hits Skinner ever made was on Simon Poidevin – but the result was quite different.
Late in the first half of the 1991 World Cup Final, Tim Horan brought Poidevin into a play by executing a ‘switch pass, that sent Poidevin straight into the trajectory of Micky Skinner.
Skinner ‘read the play’ perfectly, sized Poidevin up, and wham! Poidevin was struck with one of the most devastating tackles I have ever seen.
Poidevin somehow held onto possession of the ball, despite being knocked senseless. Australia regained possession thanks to Poidevin holding onto the ball, and a penalty was called in Australia’s favour 10 seconds later.
Michael Lynagh missed a penalty kick almost in front of the sticks about 30 metres out. Spare a thought for Poidevin if you ever see that missed kick at the sticks!
But Poidevin amazingly continued to play in the Test, and made a significant contribution to Australia’s victory, which was due almost solely to an enormous defensive effort.
Following this Test Australian coach Bob Dwyer asked how he was doing after that tackle. Poidevin responded, “I held onto the bloody ball, didn’t I?”
Sydney 40 All Blacks 17, Penrith Stadium, July 22, 1992
It would be easy to stop reminiscing about Poidevin by finishing with his glorious World Cup triumph.
But the career of Simon Poidevin would not be complete without him getting stuck into the All Blacks one last time at club level.
It seems appropriate that Poidevin should share in this triumph. It was the Randwick match in 1988 that brought him back to rugby, so it seems appropriate that his last match against the All Blacks should be a victory at club level.
A Carwyn James-coached Llanelli side beat the All Blacks 9-3 in 1972. The Irish side Munster scored a famous victory in 1978, 12-0. But none of these two triumphs compare to a 23-point massacre of the All Blacks!
Consider that Australia’s biggest ever victory over New Zealand is the 28-7 thrashing from 1999, when Rod Kafer was five-eighth.
Sydney beat New Zealand by an even bigger score!
For the late Australian coach Greg Smith (RIP), this was his greatest triumph.
But it seems appropriate that the last time Poidevin played New Zealand, he flogged them in style.
He was duly treated to a standing ovation as he walked off the field.
However, this Sydney side didn’t do any favours for the Wallabies.
After losing their first two Tests to the Wallabies in the 1992 Bledisloe Cup, and then getting thumped by Sydney in this match, there was simply no way the All Blacks were going to lose the third and final Bledisloe Cup Test.
I would have preferred a Wallaby clean-sweep to a Sydney win.