Where were we in 94:
Even though the IRB rankings didn’t really come into effect until somewhere around 2003, if you apply the same formula historically, as Pick and Go does so well, you will find something rather surprising. Australia was ranked the #1 team in the world in June of 1994. I guess I shouldn’t find this too shocking. After all we were the reigning World Champions and followed that up quickly with Bledisloe Cup win in 92 and a series win over the Boks in 93.
I am sure we were helped as well by the Froggies doing the do on the All Blacks in New Zealand, winning both their tests. The All Blacks had also been done by the Poms at the end of 1993, so it is a fair argument that, yeah, we deserved that number one ranking.
Not too much had changed for the Wallabies, and that probably had an impact on what would eventuate over the next 12 months or so. Bob Dwyer was still coach and still getting results, as we can see from the above. Nick Farr-Jones had retired (twice) but now for good and his partner-in-sublime Michael Lynagh was the first choice skipper.
There were many core players still running around from 1991 as well, including the entire tight five and Campo out wide. Number 8 Tim Gavin was back from injury, a little slower, but still contributing.
So far that year:
It was a fairly cruisey start to 1994 for the Wallabies. They defeated the Irish in a couple of tests (33-13 in Brisbane and 32-18 in Sydney). Both tests contributing to the list of Wallaby One-Test Wonders – centre Matthew O’Connor in the first game and then utility back Ryan Constable in the second. More significantly that 2nd test saw the debut of hard running centre Daniel Herbert, who would score with his first touch of the ball.
Tim Wallace may have joined O’Connor and Constable as he came off the bench in the Wallabies’ next game against Italy (won by Australia 23-20 in Brisbane). But an injury to Michael Lynagh would see Wallace start the next test (won by Australia 20-7 in Melbourne) and join the ranks of those Two-Test Wonders (alongside Alistair Murdoch, David Fitter, David Nucifora and Dally Messenger amongst others). That first Italian test would also be the debut for a talkative young scrum half, George Gregan. He would go on to play a considerable number more tests than two, as well as becoming considerably less talkative.
15 Matt Pini, 14 Damian Smith, 13 Daniel Herbert,12 Matt Burke, 11 David Campese,10 Tim Wallace, 9 George Gregan, 8 Tim Gavin, 7 David Wilson, 6 Ilie Tabua, 5 Rod Mcall, 4 John Eales, 3 Ewen Mckenzie, 2 Phil Kearns [c], 1Tony Daly.
Phil Kearns would take over the captaincy in the absence of Michael Lynagh through injury. Both Tim Horan and Jason Little were injured having suffered knee injuries playing for Queensland against Natal in the Super 10 final.
The year ahead?:
1994 would finish with two sensational performances. The first a comprehensive and exhilarating 73-3 win over Samoa in Sydney and then a 20-16 defeat of the All Blacks which included this brilliant Jason Little try from the kick off and then the famous Gregan tackle.
New Faces to come:
From the time that 2nd Italy test finished until the start of the World Cup the following year, not a single new player was picked in the Wallabies. Whilst Herbie and Gregan made their, significant, debuts earlier in the season, no more rookies would feature. That is, of course, until the World Cup itself.
In the second pool game, following our opening loss to host nation South Africa (18-27), nineteen year old Joe Roff would score a try on debut against Canada (and score two more in the next match against Romania). Coming off the bench against the Cannucks was QLD hooker Michael Foley, who would also get another run the next game v Romania, this time starting. For this game Daniel Manu now made his debut off the bench.
It was a sign of squad imbalance in that injuries were such a factor and new players were getting their start in a tournament as important as the RWC. Unlike he did he 1991, Dwyer rotated his team significantly and by the time the all important Quarter Final against England came, the best team seemingly still wasn’t known and worst still, hadn’t played together before.
Those that missed the boat:
Tim Wallace was probably the only real casualty never to play for the Wallabies again, as we sought for a replacement, or at least back up, for Lynagh. Two options for that spot were eventual Brumby stars David Knox and Pat Howard. Both featured significantly in those two outstanding 1994 wins against Samoa and the All Blacks, yet neither made the RWC squad the following year.
Darren Junee, the permed utility back, also played his last test in that one off 1994 Bledisloe, however his was of his own making as he made the decision to switch to rugby league. Joining him would be boom lock forward Garrick Morgan, who finished the 1993 international season widely acclaimed as one of the best forwards in the game. A failed stint in league unfortunately corresponded with the RWC year. He was a big loss to the Wallabies.
Interesting is the fact that during the RWC Ilie Tabua, Tony Daly, Peter Slattery, Rod McCall and Michael Lynagh all played their last tests for Australia. Perhaps a sign we held on to a few players just a tad too long? In must be said though, Lynagh was superb this tournament scoring 53 points in the three games he played.
The 1995 RWC:
The Wallaby team that played England in that fateful Quarter Final v England on 11th June, 1995 in Cape Town was:
15 Matt Burke, 14 Damian Smith,13 Jason Little, 12 Tim Horan, 11 David Campese, 10 Michael Lynagh [c], 9 George Gregan, 8 Tim Gavin, 7 David Wilson, 6 Willie Ofagengaue, 5 Rod Mcall, 4 John Eales, 3 Ewen Mckenzie, 2 Phil Kearns, 1 Dan Crowley.
So that’s basically the 1991 RWC team with Burke in for Roebuck, Smith in for Ego, Gregan in for NFJ, Gav for Coker (although Gav would’ve been 8 if fit), Wilson for Poido and Crowls (who was there in 91 anyway) there for Daley! Remembering Daley was in the RWC squad anyway.
Oh and the tournament itself? Well the All Blacks were brilliant; on the back of a rampaging Jonah Lomu, but the host nation were the ones that would have the true Hollywood ending as Australia had their hopes dashed by a Pom fly-half kicking a drop goal. How prophetic.
2011 RWC Learnings:
To say that the 1995 RWC squad was a dad’s army or the walking wounded would probably be stretching things a bit. What is fair to say is that the squad was not at peak fitness. Now I could understand rushing the likes of Tim Horan back, remembering that the previous year there were doubts he’d ever run again, let alone play rugby. But it was still a risk. Particularly on the back of some excellent Wallaby performances by others the year before. Others carrying injuries include 91 World Champions Rod McCall, Phil Kearns and Tony Daly. Powerful Fijian blindside Illie Tabua was also struggling.
It is a fine line a coach must tread in making the hard call as to when a player must be cut and new options found. Perhaps that is something that Deans is aware of as he continues to look beyond the likes of Phil Waugh, Al Baxter and Stirling Mortlock. It was noticeable in Steve Larkham’s and George Gregan’s latter years that the ability was still there, it just wasn’t there as regularly. There were more down games than up. So whilst Deans will need to balance youth with experience, a move away from some of the ‘old timers’ may well prove beneficial come RWC 2011!