RWC moments: Wallabies threaten World Cup final walk off
Captain Eales warned referee he would act if French foul play was not addressed
Australian captain John Eales talks to South African referee Andre Watson after receiving a yellow card during the Rugby World Cup 1999 final against France at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Photograph: William West/AFP/Getty
The admiration for Australia’s World Cup winning captain John Eales as a player can be gleaned from the nickname bestowed on him by teammates of ‘Nobody’ – it’s taken from the phrase ‘nobody’s perfect’ because he came close to broaching those standards on a rugby pitch.
A brilliant athlete, lineout operator and place-kicker, the secondrow led the Wallabies to a 1999 World Cup triumph, beating France in the final. But rather than his ability it was it was his integrity and strength of character as a man that prompted him to threaten to take the Australian team off the pitch in the final.
The reason was that he believed a number of his players had been gouged by French opponents in the final that took place at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. For those of you who remember the children’s film Bedknobs and Broomsticks and the notorious soccer match under the sea between True Blues and the Dirty Yellows, well this was a case of the Dirty Blues according to Eales.
With 25 minutes remaining in the final the Australian captain approached match referee Andre Watson and told the official that he would take his team off the pitch unless something was done about the French foul play. Eales, who sported a bloodshot eye in the aftermath, was one of three Wallabies ( prop Richard Harry and hooker Michael Foley were the others) that were alleged to have been eye gouged.
The whole thing came to a head when, with Australian leading 18-12, flanker David Wilson suffered a cut chin after being caught by a French boot. Eales had tried to address the issues with Watson several times during the game and recalled in his autobiography saying to the official: “I fear for my team’s safety. If this continues, we will leave the field; we will just leave the field.”
Wallabies’ coach Rod Macqueen said that he had been warned about the French by the All Blacks following the latter’s semi-final defeat.
“What we didn’t want to happen was for it to continue. The obvious way to do that was to put the referee on notice in no uncertain terms.”
Team-mate and fullback Matt Burke was blown away by Eales’ ‘cojones’.
“Imagine if it didn’t stop and Andre Watson didn’t do anything about it. You are putting pressure on the guy in the middle to make sure it doesn’t happen. They were pre-empting it, but you have to have some gall to be able to do that.”
The Aussie captain argued that he didn’t over-think what he was about to do. “You make decisions on the spot, and you have to use your judgment to do that. You don’t always have hours to think about it so you back your instinct.”
The final scoring act in the Aussies 35-12 final victory belonged to the familiar figure of Owen Finegan, born to Irish parents Pat and Josephine, and who played for Leinster for a season under Michael Cheika.