Wallabies will be 'headline' or 'footnote' in history

ANDREW WEBSTER
Last updated 07:20 21/08/2014
Nick Farr-Jones
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ
ANCIENT HISTORY: Wallabies Nick Farr-Jones in action back in 1986 when his side last beat the All Blacks at Auckland's Eden Park.

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According to those Wallabies who have played there, nothing is particularly forbidding about the graveyard of Eden Park.

It's not the sound of a hostile crowd, or the reverberation of the grandstand above the visitors' dressing room.

The spookiest part for those in gold jumpers is the number: how many years it has been since Australia last beat the All Blacks at the famous Auckland ground.

Twenty-eight years ... Boo!

Alan Jones coached the Wallabies in 1986, and he knew in the opening 20 minutes of the third and deciding test of the series that his Wallabies were about to carve out their own slice of Bledisloe Cup history.

''I knew they would throw the kitchen sink at us,'' Jones recalls. ''I picked up that vibe by my contacts around the pubs and so on. We had our own people doing intelligence to see what they [the All Blacks] were saying.

"And they were going to go all-out attack; that they could break us in the opening 20. They got down near our line. [New Zealand hooker] Hika Reid made a charge for the line and [Australian prop Topo] Rodriguez picked him up and just threw him back from the line.

"I knew from that point that our blokes' heads were in the right place and we'd be very hard to beat.''

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The Wallabies, featuring future heroes David Campese, Michael Lynagh and Nick Farr-Jones, crafted out a 22-9 win.

It was their first series victory on New Zealand soil. 

''Life is now very liveable,'' Wallabies flanker Simon Poidevin said after full-time.

Later that evening, Jones was called away from his team to a function involving sponsors and government representatives.

Jill Wran, who has carried a heavy heart in the past week following the much-publicised arrest of her daughter Harriet, was the only woman in the room. She was there as the wife of Neville Wran, the NSW premier of the day.

''There were 18 people around the table,'' Jones says. ''They were all excited. Someone suggested that everyone should say something about what the day meant. It got to Jill Wran. It is the only speech I can remember.

''She said, 'I know nothing about rugby but when I saw that player of yours lift that New Zealand player as he approached the line and drove him back, I thought this must be a special team'. It was the most telling comment that was made that night.''

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Jones doesn't subscribe to the theory of hoodoos or graveyards and why no Australian side has won at Eden Park since that miserable, soggy day on September 6, 1986.

''We haven't won since because we haven't been good enough,'' he said. ''If you let environment or grounds get on top of you, you don't deserve it.''

The Wallabies leave for Auckland on Thursday and fly home on Sunday.

In 1986, Jones' side arrived at Eden Park having toured through all of New Zealand, playing provincial sides of near-test strength in midweek slugfests, including a historic win over Southland in Invercargill in which Brett Papworth had starred.

In the second test, they had been denied victory when No.8 Steve Tuynman was disallowed a try.

A quarter of a century later, referee Derek Bevan admitted he'd got it wrong, which hardly appeases Jones even now, given the mammoth task his side had been set heading to Eden Park with the series at 1-1 with everything on the line.

''We'd been through the rain and the mud and the crap all around New Zealand,'' Jones reflected. ''But we had to forget we were tired. We had to know what the nature of the challenge was, and what the prize was.''

After much debate with Michael Lynagh throughout the week, with fullback Roger Gould unavailable, Jones relented at the selection table and kept Campese on the wing, while Andrew Leeds made his debut at fullback.

The last words Jones said to his team in 1986 as they left the Eden Park rooms could apply now.

''This is an opportunity to be a headline or a footnote in the history of the game,'' he told them.

Leeds scored the first try, Campese the last.

The enduring memory from the match isn't so much Wallabies players guzzling beer from the Bledisloe Cup afterwards as captain Andrew Slack holding it aloft - wearing an All Blacks jumper.

Says Jones of last Saturday night's 12-all draw: ''The All Blacks were terrible, we were stupid and the referee was a disgrace. It was an opportunity and we neglected it. They don't come back.''

NOTE: This story has been changed after initially incorrectly saying the Wallabies' 1986 series victory in New Zealand was the only time an international side had won a series on New Zealand soil.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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