A Tribute To...John Eales

Barney Corkhill@@BarneyCorkhillSenior Writer IOctober 24, 2008

Barney Corkhill's A Tribute To... series this time looks at rugby. In this series I look at the greatest talents to grace various sports.

Today's tribute is to one of the greatest all-round players of all time. Many consider him to be the greatest Australian rugby player ever. Nicknamed "Nobody" because "Nobody's perfect," I speak, of course, of the great John Eales.

Born on the 27th June, 1970, John Eales showed his all-round talent from an early age. He was a gifted cricketer, able to bat, bowl and field, and was a success academically as well.

He knew he had to focus on one sport if he was to make it big. Thankfully, he chose rugby.

From there on there was no looking back. His size and strength made him naturally suited to a place in the forwards, and he soon made the second row position his favourite. However, his speed and kicking ability was that of a back. Rarely has the game seen such a combination of strength, speed, kicking ability and leadership as it did in John Eales.

In 1989 he joined the Brothers Rugby Club, and impressed so much that within his first season he was called up by the Queensland Reds.

His arrival on the scene coincided with former second-row Bill Campbell's retirement. He wasted no time in filling the big boots Campbell had left. Perhaps it was this fortunate timing which helped John Eales develop so much as a player, as he was playing regularly for Queensland at just 20 years old.

After impressing for them, he was selected for Australia in 1991, ahead of the World Cup. Good performances in the warm up games could see him selected for the tournament.

And good performances were exactly what he gave. He helped Australia to a 63-6 thrashing of Wales in his first ever games for the Wallabies, and followed it up with a stunning performance in a 40-15 victory over England.

New Zealand legend, and fellow lock, Colin Meads predicted that Eales would have a great future in the game following this performance. He also claimed that Eales would be able to play in any position, such was his all-round ability.

Meads was not wrong.

He was selected for the 1991 World Cup, and put in commanding performances to help Australia through the group stages with a perfect record. They then narrowly beat Ireland, before triumphing over great rivals New Zealand.

That result meant that Australia met England in the final, the team they had brushed aside earlier in the year, with Eales as the starring figure. Once more, Eales had a huge impact on the game, producing a fantastic try-saving tackle on Rob Andrew. Fans, pundits and players everywhere were left bemused at just how the 6 ft 7 forward had chased down the fleet-footed Rob Andrew.

Australia went on to win the game 12-6, and John Eales became a World Champion at just 21 years of age.

The following year, Australia re-iterated their dominance with victory in the Bledisloe Cup.

In 1993 he suffered a bad shoulder injury to keep him out for most of the season, and from then on the Australian force of 1991 started to disappear. They were unsuccessful in defending their World crown in 1995, and suffered humiliating defeats to both New Zealand and South Africa the following year.

These heavy defeats came towards the start of John Eales' reign as captain, which he was given by Greg Smith. Eales' early captaincy was further disrupted with the arrival of a new coach due to these defeats.

That new coach, Rod Macqueen, recognised the talent and leadership qualities that Eales brought to the side, and saw him as the man to guide Australia through this tough patch, keeping him on as captain. It was also this year that Eales' Queensland Reds were put into the new Super 12 competition.

Things steadily started to improve. In 1998, when England toured Australia, the Wallabies handed out a 76-0 beating. Was a new Wallaby force in the making? Well, the 3-0 Bledisloe Cup win they achieved later that year went some way to answering that question.

With Eales at the helm, Australia marched into the 1999 World Cup in good form. And they continued that in the tournament. They cruised through their group, with Eales showing his all-round ability once more by scoring two conversions, and got to the final, only conceding one try along the way.

Another vintage performance from John Eales, and many other Australians that day, secured a 35-12 victory for them.

John Eales had led his country to the World Cup trophy, in the process becoming the first team to have won the trophy twice, and becoming one of five players to have won two World Cups individually, the others being fellow Aussies Tim Horan, Jason Little, Phil Kearns, and Dan Crowley. Os du Randt of South Africa has since joined that elite group.

Another high point came in 2000 when Australia, led of course by Eales were losing 23-21 to New Zealand when they got a penalty on the touch-line in stoppage time. With main goal-kicker Stirling Mortlock off the pitch, the responsibility lay on the big second row. In swirling winds he coolly slotted over a kick some of the best fly-halves would have had trouble kicking to win Australia the game and the Bledisloe Cup.

Successive Tri-Nations titles soon followed.

In 2001, John Eales led Australia against the British and Irish Lions. Australia triumphed 2-1, and in the process he became the first Australian captain to lead his country to a series victory against the Lions.

His last international game came against New Zealand, where he produced another stunning display to led Australia to a 29-26 victory over the All Blacks, winning another Tri-Nations title in the process.

His fantastic ability, coupled with his warm personality and exceptional sportsmanship made him a legend in World Rugby. Revered in Australia and respected everywhere else, he was once hailed as the most important player in the history of the game.

He played for the Queensland Reds 112 times between 1990 and 2001, scoring 402 points, a phenomenal total for a forward, and unsurprisingly the most a forward has ever scored. The points partly comprised of 66 conversions and 80 penalties, displaying Eales' kicking ability.

For Australia he recorded 173 points in 86 Tests, which comprised of two tries, 31 conversions and 34 penalties. This makes him Australia's eight highest points scorer ever, and the highest scoring forward in Test rugby history.

He was captain of the Wallabies 55 times, an Australian record before it was recently broken by George Gregan, and his 86 caps make him the second most capped Australian forward in history.

A truly great all-rounder, and perhaps the closest thing to a perfect rugby player we have seen, this has been a tribute to John Eales.

Click here to see other tributes made by this author.


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