Flight Centre Goes One-On-One With John Eales

25 February 2015
Read Time: 3.4 mins

John Eales reckons the Wallabies are a chance to win Rugby World Cup 2015. He says so in an exclusive interview with Flight Centre, citing coach Michael Cheika's "ferocity" as one of the key reasons for optimism ahead of world rugby's biggest international showdown.

"He wants to play a confronting game. He wants to play an attacking game," says Eales of Cheika's game plan in the build-up to one of the most highly anticipated sporting events of the year.

"He's relentless in his pursuit of standards within the team... and I think that's important."

 John Eales is the last Australian captain to have lifted the Webb Ellis Cup. (Getty)

It's been some time since Australia won a Rugby World Cup. Sixteen years, in fact, and three fallow tournaments for a team once considered the best in the world.

Much has changed since that November afternoon in Cardiff, when the Wallabies steamrolled a tired French outfit to claim a second World Cup crown.

By the time skipper Eales got his hands on the Webb Ellis Cup, Matt Burke's boot had already done the damage.

Having slotted home six penalty goals before winger Ben Tune slid over in the corner, the unerring Burke eventually helped himself to a total of 25 points as the Wallabies ran out comfortable 35-12 winners over France to win Rugby World Cup 1999.

Pundits anticipated a dynasty. With Burke, talented fly-half Stephen Larkham and inspirational skipper Eales in the side, surely a Rugby World Cup 2003 title on home soil was a given?

It wasn't to be. History will show it was the boot of English fly-half Jonny Wilkinson – not Burke – that made the difference.

By then, Burke had been dropped. Eales – aged just 31 – had retired. And Wilkinson, whose extra-time drop-goal sealed England's most famous win, ended hopes that the Wallabies would be a force in world rugby for years to come.

Watch John talk about Australia's chances at Rugby World Cup 2015 in the video below.

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[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUPeYFQeuPU[/embed]

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Fast-forward to 2015 and the Wallabies are hardly favourites to claim a third World Cup title.

Poor player behaviour, coaching fall-outs and a dreadful Bledisloe Cup record have all combined to see Australia slip well back into world rugby's pack.

Coach Michael Cheika's ascension to the Wallabies hotseat could hardly have been more unorthodox.

Coming on the back of Ewen McKenzie's shock resignation in the wake of the Kurtley Beale texting scandal, Cheika has been thrust into the limelight as the dual coach of Super Rugby side New South Wales and the Wallabies.

While it may seem like a heavy workload, it's not without precedent, after Robbie Deans coached both the Crusaders and Australia throughout 2008.

Critics will point to Deans' overall success rate as Wallabies coach – despite a promising start, Australia never came close to ending New Zealand's dominant Bledisloe Cup reign –  with Deans ultimately stepping down after a mixed six years in charge.

Yet Eales is confident Cheika is the right man for the job, stating that his that his aggressive style of coaching can help Australia climb back to the top of the pack.

Watch John talk about what it's like to play at Twickenham in the video below.

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[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DX50QrCITgI[/embed]

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In many ways, the Wallabies are yet to recover from Eales' retirement.

There have been talismanic skippers since – not least the lion-hearted George Gregan – however Eales' decision to step down gracefully at the height of his powers has left a void yet to be filled.

Many have tried, and for a while it looked like Brisbane-born forward James Horwill would follow in Eales' hallowed footsteps, but ultimately the task of leading Australia from the front has proved a difficult one.

Much of it comes back to the man known as 'Nobody.' Legend has it that Eales was nicknamed that by his team-mates because "nobody's perfect," yet the truth is more prosaic.

"It comes from a Mr Men book," says Eales. Handed a copy of Mr Perfect as a novelty gift at the end of a Wallabies tour, someone in the room chimed in "nobody's perfect!"

Despite never actually being called 'Nobody' by his team-mates, the story found legs when it was recounted to the English press by winger David Campese. Eales, much to his chagrin, found himself stuck with the tag.

It says much for his stature in the game that many journalists simply referred to the nickname without question.

Nobody's Perfect

How is it that a 200-centimetre gentle giant from suburban Brisbane could prove so influential?

"I started playing in the Under-8 Ashgrove Emus," says Eales of the humble beginnings that ultimately saw him rise to the pinnacle of his sport.

It would take him to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to collect the Webb Ellis Cup from Queen Elizabeth II, and eventually lead to one of the most iconic moments in Australian rugby history.

With the Wallabies trailing the All Blacks by two points in their 2000 Bledisloe Cup showdown in Wellington, a penalty after the final whistle gave Australia the chance to clinch the match.

The only problem was that regular goal kicker Stirling Mortlock was off the field through cramp. Up stepped skipper Eales.

"I kicked a hundred of those in the backyard trying to win a Test for Australia," says Eales of his mindset going into the now legendary long-distance penalty kick that sealed a 24-23 victory and the Bledisloe Cup for the Wallabies.

Eales would go on to play a total of 86 Tests for the Wallabies, scoring 173 points as a goal-kicking lock and becoming the most successful captain in Australian rugby history.

New Wallabies coach Cheika could well do with a player of Eales' leadership qualities and skills, although the man himself may see things differently.

After all, nobody's perfect. A sentiment John Eales is the first to agree with.

Flight Centre is an official travel agent for Rugby World Cup 2015

3-night packages in London are still available featuring  an official Australia vs Wales Category D match ticket at Twickenham Stadium, breakfast daily and return private airport transfers from $1189 per person, twin share. Contact your nearest Flight Centre for more details.

Mike Tuckerman

From Europe to Asia and many places in between, there's rarely a town or city I've not enjoyed exploring. When I'm not wandering the streets and discovering new destinations, you can usually find me hanging out with the locals at major sporting events.