Miracles seemed to come easy to Eales, not only the greatest Wallaby captain but the greatest Wallaby, period.
In the dying minutes of the 1991 World Cup final against England, Australia was clutching a narrow 12-6 lead. Speedy English fly-half Rob Andrew broke clear; a converted try would win the match for his side. Andrew was a faster man than Eales but the Australian chased and caught him, sealing the match for the Wallabies.
Marvelled Australia’s coach Bob Dwyer: “You tell me, how does a 6ft 7in second rower run down a fleet-footed fly-half like Rob Andrew? As long as I live, I’ll never know.”
His nickname was “Nobody” … as in “nobody’s perfect.” That said, John Eales came close. The mobile for his size, industrious, super fit, goal-kicking lock played 86 Tests, captaining his country in a record 55.
He played in two winning World Cup teams, as a rookie in ’91 and as Australia’s captain in 1999. In Tests and World Cup matches, the goal-kicking lock notched 173 points, an international record. He captained the Queensland Reds from 1999-2001.
A thoughtful and decent man who has gone on to success in business and sports administration, Eales, today 43, credited the great coaches he had played under and his psychology degree with helping him thrive on captaincy.
In turn he was a respected and beloved leader. Even in the tightest and most important match, such as the World Cup final, Eales never panicked and, following his lead, neither did his teammates, and the victories followed.
Of the value of composure, he said it was the end result of creating and adhering to a structure, a set routine you can fall back upon. “Rugby lends itself to individual brilliance, but that brilliance won’t shine unless it’s based on strong foundations.”