There are more than 400,000 reasons why the Triple M Brisbane organised Classic Wallabies versus Classic All Blacks match was worth the effort. That’s the number of dollars raised by the event to go to the Christchurch Earthquake fund. And they haven’t stopped counting yet, so expect the figure to end up closer to half a million dollars. Continuing a trend we have seen across Australia of late, people and organisations were falling over themselves to support the cause, with the result being big bucks heading across the ditch to assist rebuilding one of the great rugby cities — and also the biggest crowd at Ballymore for a rugby game for about seven years.
Why wouldn’t you want to be there if you were a rugby fan? It was back to Ballymore to watch the likes of MMM’s own Greg Martin, Tim Horan, David Campese and Garrick Morgan take on the legendary All Blacks Christian Cullen, Jeff Wilson and Ian Jones — to name just a few.
At Brisbane’s home of rugby union, with some of the greats of the game, it was always going to be a night where reliving the past was the name of the game. So let’s take a look back and reminisce at why this game was a step back in time.
First, Ballymore. Lovely ground, but an absolute shit of a place to get to come game time. It adds to the charm I guess, if you find a twenty-minute hike through boggy parks or up and down sheer hills charming. The atmosphere of a full house though — wow! Ballymore crowds feed off each other when the place is packed. It has always been a place of (mostly) good-spirited fun, starting usually on the formerly XXXX (now Cartlton & United Breweries) Hill and carrying on to the various can bars surrounding the main field.
Onto the field of play and what’s the old cliche? Form is temporary, but class is forever? Well this remains true, even post-retirement. The men that stood out in this game were the same guys doing it last time they were at Ballymore: Christian Cullen, Justin Marshall and Jeff Wilson for the visitors and Tim Horan and David Campese for the Wallabies. In fact, watching Horan and Campo was quite incredible at times. Horan was only meant to play ten minutes, but was hard to drag off the field, to the benefit of the locals. The timing of his pass and run was still there, and he was one of many who looked like they could slot straight back into the national team.
Campo was much the same, his skill just hasn’t faded and he was in everything (other than a tackle on a rampaging Caleb Ralph). I mentioned Campo’s skill which was still there in spades; what was lacking was the speed to back it up. He seemed determined to pull off a chip and chase, and while his brain was still sharp enough to spot the opportunities, the old pins weren’t quite up to the task. His former coach Alan Jones (or was it Bob Dwyer?) said that sometimes Campo’s legs didn’t know what his brain was thinking. Well, I reckon his legs knew what his brain was up to but they just couldn’t be arsed responding.
I should mention the result, although it was never a focus point of the game that saw the Classic All Blacks trounce the Classic Wallabies 58-20. The score pretty much sums up the game as the All Blacks were completely dominant. It was actually quite beautiful to experience the way they played the game. It reinforces the common belief that New Zealanders have rugby mana just flowing through their blood. It’s like a natural genetic connection that binds all kiwis. Chuck together 25 of them, with minimal training and game planning, and they just turn it on. The running lines, support play, passing… it all just came back to them so naturally.
While the Wallabies had to work hard for each of their four tries, the All Blacks point-scoring movements just seemed like they evolved naturally from the earth. If there was one common element to it all, I feel, it was Jeff Wilson. Cullen, Glenn Osborne, Karl Te Nana and Caleb Ralph ran riot out wide, but it was Wilson who made the space for all of them. He was involved in everything and made an impact every time he touched the ball. Perhaps his best-ever game against the Wallabies?
The All Blacks did come into the match with a seeming advantage of age as well as ‘current players’. Look no further than the front row, where Kees Meeuws was monstrous across the park continuing on the form that he displayed in last year’s NPC. Meanwhile the Wallabies had two front rowers who played on the 1984 Grand Slam tour, in Andy McIntyre and Tom Lawton! Not that Lawton lasted long though, subbing off after about four minutes and remaining unsighted for the rest of the game.
For the Wallabies, the stand-outs were again recent retirees (those with Japanese contracts included). Chris Latham and George Gregan looked the most dangerous runners for the Wallabies and linked up on a number of attacking raids. In the pack David Croft worked his arse off, as per usual, and was ably supported by lock Mark Connors and Sam Scott-Young, who threw himself into everything, as was his way in his heyday.
Pat Howard at fly-half, who played for lower grades for the University of Queensland club last year, was another to put in an eye-catching performance. Looking as sharp as ever, his passing game was a match highlight and there were many watching, both at the ground and via their computer, who insisted that perhaps the Tahs or Brumbies could do with Pat in their 10 jersey this season.
While the haka that started the game was as emotive as any performed by the All Blacks, it was the one at the end of the game that really made the hairs stand on end. Performed to the large kiwi crowd in the Eastern Stand, the power behind its performance was palpable. It was about the resilience and tenacity that will see the people of Christchurch come through these trying times with great integrity and strength of character. It was also about the respect and gratitude that the people of New Zealand and Australia have built for each other. We will always be the fiercest of combatants on the field, but forever together off it. It was a compelling moment.
Credit once again to Triple M up here in Brisbane, and particularly Greg Martin for getting this thing off the ground. There were obviously heaps of companies who came on board to help out, such as the QRU, QANTAS and Tourism Queensland, so congrats to all of them. It was a fantastic example of the might of the rugby community and a chance to watch some old favourites for a great cause. Long may it continue.
Classic Wallabies: Forwards: Andrew Heath, Andy McIntyre, Dan Crowley, Richard Harry, Tom Lawton, Sean Hardman, Jeremy Paul, Garrick Morgan , Mark Connors, Sam Scott-Young, Toutai Kefu, Scott Gourley, David Croft, Duncan Hall. Backs: Greg Martin (captain), George Gregan, Tim Horan, Pat Howard, Nathan Spooner, Anthony Herbert, James Grant, Peter Jorgensen, David Campese, Nathan Williams, Paul Carozza, Chris Latham.
Classic All Blacks: Forwards: Reuben Thorne (captain), Scott Robertson, Ian Jones, Kees Meeuws, Craig Dowd, Slade McFarland, Deon Muir, Kelvin Middleton, Thomas Maling, Hayden Scown, Charles Riechelmann, Justin Collins, Dustin Watts. Backs: Justin Marshall, Christian Cullen, Jeff Wilson, Glen Osborne, Caleb Ralph, Karl Te Nana, Frank Bunce, Ofisa Tonuu, Charles Hore, David Holwell, Jason Spice.
Classic ABs 58: Tries: Jeff Wilson 2, Glen Osbourne, Jason Spice, Christian Cullen, Rueben Thorne, Caleb Ralph 2, Karl Te Mana, Ian Jones def Classic Wobs 20: Tries: Garrick Morgan, Chris Latham, Peter Jorgenson, Tim Horan.