Only a select few of rugby’s greats have won the World Cup, but it takes something special to win it twice. John Eales is one of those players, who proved an integral cog in Australia’s victorious 1991 campaign before captaining the Wallabies to success eight years later.
But that exclusive club of Eales, team-mates Dan Crowley, Jason Little, Phil Kearns and Tim Horan and South Africa’s Os du Randt could swell this Saturday should New Zealand retain the world crown they won four years ago.
Eales hopes that will not be the case, for obvious reasons, but while Australia’s waltz to the final has surpassed all expectations, given where the Wallabies were a year ago, Eales says defeat simply will not do.
“The key is you need your team to work with handling the emotion of the occasion and stoke that up to use it and power you,” he tells The Independent. “But, at the same time, you want to make sure that it’s business as usual, that you’re not overawed by the occasion. The things that you’re good at, you have to make sure that you can replicate them, because the prize is not getting to the final, the prize is winning it.”
The former lock-turned-businessman and Australian Rugby Union board member will be at Twickenham to perform a rather important duty. He will carry the Webb Ellis Cup out on to the pitch 16 years after lifting it and, alongside the Japanese actress Tao in a nod to Japan 2019, remove the trophy from its unique Louis Vuitton case and place it on a stand minutes before the teams emerge.
Some of the players will gaze at it, while others will ignore it until they win the right to touch it. But whoever succeeds, they will definitely have earned it.
The match arguably represents the biggest game in Australian rugby union history, for they have never met their fierce rivals the All Blacks in a final. Both hope to become the first nation to win the World Cup three times and, despite playing in important games himself, Eales understands the magnitude of the match.
“You’ve got to look at the next game as being your biggest, but the next game happens to probably be the biggest game ever played,” he says. “The World Cup now is much bigger than it ever was and, playing against New Zealand, you can certainly argue that it doesn’t get any bigger than this.”
The 45-year-old paid tribute to two returning players – one from serious injury and one from international exile – who have rejuvenated the Wallabies this year. When the head coach, Michael Cheika, took charge of the side, he pushed for a change to the selection policy that led to Toulon’s Matt Giteau returning to the international fold at the same time as the former captain, David Pocock, made his comeback from two career-threatening knee injuries.
“It’s been really crucial for us with him coming back,” Eales says of Giteau. “One of the things that everyone says about Matt Giteau if they’ve played with him is that he’s got that will to win and a will to win is not something you can coach necessarily, it’s something you’ve got.”
On Pocock, he adds: “His impact on the Wallabies whenever he’s been part of the team has been amazing and he’s certainly had to fight his way back in, but every time he’s been out on the field he’s proven his worth. He’s a different player a unique player.”
Both will need to be at their best if Australia are to upset the odds. But if they do, who knows, we might be on the cusp of another era of golden domination.
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