1991: Defeats led to success

By Nick Farr-Jones

Nick Farr-Jones (left) and David Campese celebrate after Australia beat England 12-6 in the World Cup final at Twickenham in November 1991.
Photo / Getty Images
Nick Farr-Jones (left) and David Campese celebrate after Australia beat England 12-6 in the World Cup final at Twickenham in November 1991. Photo / Getty Images

How we won it: The Wallabies

It's hard to imagine that it is coming up to 20 years since the winning of the 1991 Rugby World Cup. And the actual planning of the success went back to 1989. A critical aspect of the success was the putting together of the jigsaw puzzle which are the individual players required to win a major sporting event. In 1989 we had two disappointing outcomes where the learning from our defeats was hugely important to our 91 success.

The first was the loss to the British and Irish Lions in the three-test series. In the first test in Sydney we won clearly and the Lions quickly realised they would have to change their tactics to upset the Wallabies. The result was to turn up the physicality in the next two tests. They went on to win the next two tests narrowly and I had no qualms with the rough-house tactics even though I was the focus of the bulling at Ballymore in Brisbane. But they did us a huge favour as we soon realised that a few changes would have to be made in our front 8 largely to be able to go tete a tete with the opposition should tough tactics be employed.

Put simply we needed some more starch.

Then at the end of 1989 we went away for a two-test series in France. We played wonderful rugby in the first test dominating the French, however we were miserable in the second making a million simple mistakes and handing the match to our opposition. In the off season we focused on our inconsistency and realised that to win a World Cup we would need to change our culture from a team desperate to win and scoreboard focused to a team which individually did their job, trusted the guys around them to do their job (the process as we called it) and let the scoreboard look after itself.

In the two years before the playing of the RWC many key players were introduced to the Wallabies. The likes of Tim Horan, Jason Little, Willie Offahengaue, Phil Kearns, Tony Daly, Ewen McKenzie and John Eales became key team members during these important years. For mine, great rugby teams often have a blend of seasoned experienced players in key positions and a bunch of young enthusiastic newcomers who are prepared to damn the torpedoes full speed ahead. And we had this in spades.

Two other elements would become critical. Any great sporting individual or team will tell you how critical self belief and confidence is to success. Sometimes it can be one match which can be the catalyst for this turnaround. Our turning point and arguably the most important test I ever played was the third test against the All Blacks on our 1990 tour of NZ. We had been out-played in the first two tests as the mighty All Blacks of the late eighties extended their record-breaking undefeated run. Wellington and the final test on tour would become our day as we executed our strategy and mind-set of "whatever it takes". We knew after this convincing victory that we had a team that if we played to our potential could topple the world's best and without mentioning it the World Cup would be ours for the losing.

Then the final thing worth mentioning 20 years post our success. Put quite simply but hard to define it was the team spirit that we had developed over a few years. A preparedness to sacrifice for each other - that spirit of whatever it takes individually and collectively on and off the paddock. A team that enjoyed each other's company and was prepared to work very hard for the success we yearned for. And getting to understand the culture we sought - that of doing your job, minimising the errors and letting the scoreboard look after itself.

During the playing of the World Cup we took 26 players away. Our tournament would comprise six matches and two of our 26 did not get to even take their boots to a match. Those two players did not complain or create any disharmony - they realised the greater good of the team would be for them to do whatever they could to assist the guys charged with producing the goods in the 80 minutes. It was this type of spirit which radiates through great sporting teams.

My only small regret 20 years on as the guy who was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and lift the Webb Ellis trophy is that when reflecting on the tournament we know as a team we didn't play nearly as well as we could have. With the exception of a great semifinal against the ABs we somewhat limped across the line. We would go on in 1992 to lift the bar and show the world what a truly great team we had become. Another leading indicator of greatness - never being satisfied with where you are at any given time and realising there are better ways of strutting your stuff!

1987
Video: Great World Cup moments - 1987
In the beginning: Remembering our last victory drink
How we won: The All Blacks - Getting the nation back into black
Setting the scene: Long road to global rugby supremacy
A sending off that made Wallaby history
All Black memories: 'Dawn of a new era'
Tournament star: Michael Jones - Keeping up with Jones
Tournament action: Fans' lukewarm start fast turned to fervour

1991
Video: Great World Cup moments - 1991
How we won: The Wallabies - Defeats led to success
Aussie's winning mindset
'Beaten by a better team'
Tournament action: Fitter, faster England level the playing field
After long string of wins it was a bridge too far
Tournament star: David Campese - Campo's golden touch

- NZ Herald

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