The Roar
The Roar

Advertisement

Greatest XV: John Eales' World Cup journey from clumsy No.8 to Australian rugby's most iconic moment

Autoplay in... 6 (Cancel)
Up Next No more videos! Playlist is empty -
Replay
Cancel
Next
Expert
3rd September, 2023
36
2496 Reads

Few sides were caught unawares by the great John Eales after the bogus billing for his first run-on role for Queensland in Canberra.

As was the style of then-Queensland coach John Connolly, he never wanted to give anything away even when playing an outgunned ACT side in 1990.

The Roar is counting down the Wallabies’ Greatest World Cup XV of all time from No. 15-1 with thanks to thousands of votes from our readers.

Because no one knew too much about Eales at 19, Connolly pulled a con with one local reporter when announcing a replacement for the injured Bill Campbell.

“The short, stocky John Eales” was in, Connolly said slyly in the pre-YouTube age.

The stripling was already 2m tall and still to add the extra kilograms that would help turn him into the pre-eminent lock of his era.

Eales redefined what to expect from a lock at World Cup time and everywhere in between. He was a lock at lock even before voting started for The Roar’s Greatest Wallabies XV.
Everything happened fast for Eales. He was playing a Brisbane club grand final for Brothers at 20, winning the competition’s Rothmans Medal as best player at the same age, and debuting for the Wallabies at 21.

He was still just 21 when he embarked on the 1991 World Cup tour. He was almost in need of an on-field minder when the Welsh, Irish and English happily barged him with stray elbows and other body parts at re-starts.

Advertisement
Australian captain John Eales (C) and his teammates celebrate after winning the 1999 Rugby Union World Cup final against France. Australia won the final 35 to 12. (Photo by Franck Seguin/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Australian captain John Eales (C) and his teammates celebrate after winning the 1999 Rugby Union World Cup final against France. Australia won the final 35 to 12. (Photo by Franck Seguin/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

His mark as a two-time World Cup-winner had a slow-burning beginning as a clumsy No.8.

True. The pre-tournament injury to top-choice No.8 Tim Gavin had forced the Wallabies into a creative measure.

He fumbled several balls at the back of Australia’s unstable scrum against Argentina in Llanelli and got another chance there against Western Samoa in Pontypool.

Enough. The experiment was over. Eales was back to lock to make a supreme mark in that spot for another decade.

Advertisement

His lineout-winning was crucial to the 1991 World Cup success but there was also a big moment in the final against England at Twickenham that reflected his rare, all-round package of skills.

A lock had no right to tackle England flyhalf Rob Andrew from behind to shut down a dangerous situation. He did.

The value of strong mentors was clear for Eales and always should be in the development of modern players. He played for the Brothers club, Queensland and Australia with Rod McCall as a lock partner all the way to the 1991 final.

“There was a time where I spent more time with my arm around ‘Slaughter’ than my girlfriend,” Eales quipped of the volume of scrums they packed together.

In the decade to follow, Eales played at three World Cups. He slotted angled conversions against Romania in Stellenbosch in 1995, he kept winning lineouts, he shunted in scrums, he carted the ball forward, there were dexterous touches in general play and class in many more areas.

He was also the statesman captain of the 1999 World Cup-winning side. The image of him holding aloft the Webb Ellis Cup at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, after being presented the trophy by the late Queen Elizabeth II, is one of the most iconic in Australian rugby history.

Advertisement
 John Eales, Australian captain, receives the Webb Ellis trophy from HRH Queen Elizabeth after his side defeated France. 1999 Rugby World Cup, Australia v France, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE (Photo by Sportsfile/Corbis/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

John Eales, Australian captain, receives the Webb Ellis trophy from HRH Queen Elizabeth (Photo by Sportsfile/Corbis/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Rewind the footage on the classic Owen Finegan try to complete the victory over France in that final. The rehearsed set play was only possible because Eales winning the lineout was so assured.

Eales had great balance to his game just as that 1999 side had great balance throughout the line-up.

“You know you’re going into a game where at the end of the 80 minutes of that match, you’re either going to be world champions or you’re not,” he noted later.

“There’s nothing in between those two things. It’s not going to make your life good or bad but it does change your life from the perspective where you’ve got this moment of judgment that you’ve worked so hard towards, and you can walk away from it as a winner.”

Eales said while many might see it as a culmination of a four-year period, it was much more than that.

“It’s not a four years achievement, it’s a lifetime achievement.”

Advertisement

John Eales is your choice of No.5 for The Roar’s Greatest Wallabies Rugby World Cup XV, powered by ASICS, the Official Performance Apparel and Footwear supplier for the Wallabies. Eales won with 94.3% of the vote, followed by Nathan Sharpe and James Horwill. Check back tomorrow to find out who was selected at No.4.

John Eales was also your choice for Captain of The Roar’s Greatest Wallabies Rugby World Cup XV, winning with 77.9% of the vote, followed by Nick Farr-Jones and George Gregan.

Get your hands on the wonderful new ASICS Wallabies RWC strips which is available to purchase in-store, and online now at asics.com.au.

The Roar’s Greatest Wallabies Rugby World Cup XV

Advertisement
close