MUM USED TO FAINT ALL THE TIME
I made my Wallabies debut against New Zealand in 1980.
When I was first picked for Australia mum fainted. I drove home to tell her – and she heard it on the radio and then she fainted again. Mum used to faint all the time.
It was hard enough getting in the team. Paul McLean was the incumbent No.10 and a good player.
Coach Bob Templeton, who was a Queenslander, had to make a big decision, and it was a bold decision, to put Paul at fullback and me at the No.10 position. It didn’t really suit Paul.
I remember the first time we got together. We stayed at a three-star hotel in the bustling city of Maroubra and we were having a team meeting and Tempo came in. We said, ‘ok, how are we going to play against the All Blacks?’ He said, ‘I’m not telling you how to play, you guys have to tell me how you want to play.’
It was pretty daunting for me. Michael O’Connor had played a few Tests, Michael Hawker had played about two but we’d played together in Schoolboys.
We adapted. Running onto the SCG wearing the green and gold was pretty daunting too.
I was shaking, for about 15-20 minutes.
Those days, when they did the haka you didn’t line up and give them respect, you were just wandering around. I remember looking at them thinking, ‘oh my god they’re going to kill me!’
They were monstrous. We knuckled down. You’re playing for keeps. Rugby was meant to be for fun but this was serious – playing for the Bledisloe Cup.
My body started getting back into the swing of things. I was just so nervous playing in front of 30,000 fans and the All Blacks. They targeted me but they couldn’t catch me, I was too skinny!
‘If you can’t keep up, don’t bother’
I was Wallabies captain for two years – 1982 and 1983. I got used to it. Was I a good captain? Probably 50-50, but I enjoyed the experience.
I was told I had been made captain by a journalist. I was staying at my girlfriend’s place and got a phone call.
They kept talking about captaincy, and finally he said ‘you don’t know you’ve been selected captain?’ I said ‘whaaaat?’. He said ‘you’re captain of the Wallabies’ and I said ‘bullshit’.
There were no mobile phones and it took me about three or four days until I could get onto the coach Bob Dwyer. We had a very colourful conversation about ‘what the hell are you doing?’.
The only two players who didn’t like it were Glen and Gary. They hated it.
I wasn’t mentored by anyone in particular. We did it together. Mum and dad played a big role in how we grew up.
We led from the front. This is how we’re going to play the game and if you can’t keep up don’t bother. We didn’t lose too many games.
Losing THE captaincy, winning a grand slam
I lost the captaincy before the 1984 Grand Slam tour.
The first part was the shock of being dropped as captain. It was Alan Jones. We played a game at Concord Oval and Jonesy said they were going to announce the team and he said, ‘I don’t want you to go because you’re not captain, Andrew Slack’s going to be captain’.
I walked across the road with my wife and a few mates and we had a couple of beers while the team was announced.
Leading up to that I was blasé. I wasn’t giving everything to the captaincy.
I captained Randwick but not NSW and I wasn’t giving everything to it.
It may have been the best thing Alan Jones ever did. We had a young guy called Michael Lynagh coming up through the grades, so where before I was a walk-up start, I had competition.
That changes your whole philosophy. I had to work.
Everything aligned. You need a bit of luck, we worked hard and had a good team.
I can’t believe we’ve only had one grand slam. It doesn’t make sense, we’ve had some great sides.
I had better things to do
Why did I retire? I had better things to do. I never wanted to play forever. I’d told my wife and friends and most of the people at Randwick knew that win, lose or draw I was going to retire.
We won the Grand Slam, I worked for Rothmans for five months in the UK and announced my retirement when I came back.
In 1985, I almost went to St George. It was pretty close. I knew I how to play league, the money was pretty good, but I just didn’t want to play. I’d retired and I didn’t feel the need to come back and play league, even for money.