Phoning in for a radio interview, John Eales laconically states, “if I hadn’t got that kick, you might not be speaking to me.”
That kick being the one in 2000 where, in Wellington, he sunk the hearts of All Blacks fans. Recapturing the Bledisloe Cup, it was a moment where one player stepped up. With his best kicker off the park, Eales took the penalty shot to defeat New Zealand on their home soil.
“I’m glad it went over”, yet this one kick cannot define the player. A big lock forward, with a multi-skilled game meant that from an early age, the nickname nobody stuck. Because ‘nobody’s perfect’.
Over a long and prosperous career, John Eales amassed the highest points tally for any forward. That record still exists, with 173 points in 86 matches demonstrating his massive influence. And today, two-time Rugby World Cup winner John Eales is still giving back to rugby in a multitude of ways.
Speaking on **Newstalk ZB, Eales discussed his career, his ideas on the game today, and how he sees sport as a value to society in this Covid-era.
‘Nobody’s perfect’ and John Eales still giving back to rugby
From his early years, Eales was a big unit. At 6 ft 7 inches, he would be one of the towers that propped up the Wallabies for over a decade. That included both the 1991 and 1999 Rugby World Cup victories. At each end of his career, it saw him captain Australia and to lift the Webb Ellis Cup high in Cardiff.
In the big moments, is where over his career, Eales developed a thick skin. In his last years and in the early 2000’s his side rode a crest of success. With fellow players like Tim Horan, George Gregan, and David Wilson (see main image), he hoisted the Bledisloe Cup to the cheers of his countryman. And was fiercely proud of the Wallabies, and his representative honours.
Representing Queensland from his University days, his mobility, fantastic hands, mastery of the set-piece, advanced reading of the game, strong defence, a huge work rate, was topped by the fact he kicked the goals too. A smart player with it, who played with both respect and passion.
That has seen him having the John Eales Award named in his honour. Annually awarded to the best Australian rugby union player, Eales was awarded the Order of Australia in 1999 for services to the community and rugby. And in 2007, he was inducted in the World Rugby Hall of Fame.
Asked about the recently awarded Rugby Championship, Eales – like so many – admitted, “yeah it was a surprise. A very pleasant surprise but, what a unique thing to do. To have double-headers at grounds, with the caliber of teams that will be playing. You might have Australia playing against Argentina, and then South Africa against the All Blacks.
“All at the same ground, on the one afternoon and evening. That’s incredible. It’s great for everyone that this comp is going ahead.”
Rugby Championship can lift the spirit of players and fans alike
“It’s exciting, we’ve got [new head coach] Dave Rennie for example. I know he’s highly rated in New Zealand. Right across the board, from the player’s to other coaches. There is an excitement of what he might be able to help with. You want to be coached by the best coaches, and I didn’t care where they came from.”
In his career, Eales played for the World XV, and learned from that experience. “I was selected to go to New Zealand, and Ian McGeechan was the coach. You just ‘soak that up’. When you have the chance to play alongside some New Zealanders in a Barbarians match, you soak it up. And learn from them”. And he sees the 2020 Rugby Championship as a time for a fresh Wallabies group to learn from these experiences.
He is also a strong believer that sport and that rugby can give back. A player who held the values of the game highly, today Eales is a respected rugby observer. He can see that sport is a big part of the community. He said that “I think people do look to sport as a way to ‘turn off’ from the real world. It’s a great passion for people.”
Like most countries, the interruption to the game was sudden and is just returning to a form of normality only now. Eales explains that “how do we get about our lives as much as possible? A large part of our lives, for people in Australia and New Zealand, is sport.
“We’ve got to be creative in how we get these things happening but the most important thing is that we actually get [keep] the games going.”
A family man, Eales noticed personally with his children that when the Coronavirus pandemic had halted sport, “when that was taken away from them as a pastime, it really affected them in other ways. It’s that way they can spend time with friends, and follow a pursuit that is either serious or social.
“Sport releases the pressure valve on other things their doing. I think it’s those aspects of sport that are more important than the professional side of sport, that society has missed.”
Rugby is a team sport and a socially responsible one. Eales would be a great ambassador for the game even without his success. While a champion on it, you sense that off of it too, John Eales is pleased to still be giving back to the sport that brought him so many rewards.
**Quotes have been taken from a Newstalk ZB radio interview with John Eales on Saturday, September 19.
“Main photo credit”
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