Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

1991: Aussie's winning mindset

Exactly a year before the 1991 World Cup final, Wallaby skipper Nick Farr-Jones was in Adelaide to take part in a celebrity car race.

Early in the morning the phone went in his hotel room. It was national coach Bob Dwyer. He made some small talk before a weary Farr-Jones asked if there was any special reason for the call.

Dwyer told his skipper he wanted him to drink some champagne that day as a toast towards their future global rugby supremacy.

It was another step in the Wallaby surge to the title which received such a glowing push in August 1990 at Athletic Park in Wellington when they beat an All Black side which had gone 23 tests without defeat.

The 21-9 triumph to the Wallabies was a significant margin, as well as a great psychological hit for both sides.

The day before, Farr-Jones and a couple of buddies lunched with Sir Richard Hadlee. During the meal, Farr-Jones was intrigued by Hadlee's description of the methods the Kiwis had used to beat the mighty West Indies in cricket.

They had mentioned the word "win" between each ball and that became louder as each wicket fell. Farr-Jones took the same concept to his team and the test the next day, when they pulled off a famous victory.

They were on their way. They beat Wales and England comfortably in mid'91, the All Blacks again in Sydney but then lost, two penalties to one, back in Auckland.

Dwyer had one more message for the captain and his team.

The way they lost was not good enough if they were going to win the Webb Ellis Cup and "make no mistake, that's exactly what we are going to do", he told them.

England were moving steadily under the stewardship of coach Geoff Cooke, who decided Will Carling was going to be his captain.

They were unbeaten in the Five Nations championship claiming the Grand Slam, but at other times were beaten by Scotland and Argentina.

Then on a seven-match trip to Australia and Fiji before the World Cup, they were beaten four times, including a thumping from the Wallabies in their final test before the World Cup.

Wales were in disarray, with three coaches in several years, Alan Davies coming in for the second global tournament. They were apparently content third place in 1987 augured well for their next venture.

Ireland remained uncertain, going on short winning spurts then unfathomable defeats. Good patches, bad stretches, you never quite knew what the Irish would deliver.

A year before the tournament, Scotland showed their threat in New Zealand when they should have beaten the All Blacks in the second test at Eden Park.

They were well organised by coach Ian McGeechan, they had some gnarly forwards and the booming goalkicking boot of Gavin Hastings.

France arrived, all snarl, snail and menace, intent on giving revered fullback Serge Blanco the send-off they hadn't managed four years earlier. While they were a big noise in Europe, they had lost series to both the All Blacks and Wallabies the year before and appeared to have too many chinks in their armour to take the title.

Manu Samoa were the unknown new entrants.

Their only previous tests were defeats against Ireland and Wales in 1988. Then there was a playing gulf until they entered the World Cup fray and beat Wales.

Half the side had been schooled in the New Zealand rugby system, they had strong guidance from coach Bryan Williams, great skill, passion and aggressive defence to startle opponents.

The All Blacks headed off in defence of their initial crown with questions and controversy hanging about their campaign.

The Bring Back Buck campaign had been rumbling on, they were well beaten twice by the Wallabies in 1990 then World Cup year, and there was the unseemly late coaching alliance with Alex Wyllie joined by John Hart.

NZRU chairman Eddie Tonks insisted the pair join forces shortly before the tournament, after the strong Auckland lobby in the squad demanded Hart be included because they had lost their faith in Wyllie.

The side was beginning to look weary, their aura was tarnished, and they started to bicker among themselves. It wasn't a good recipe for a title defence or a harmonious tournament.

There were more problems before they left. Both coaches wanted to take flanker Mike Brewer but the medics said he was unfit because of a debilitating foot injury. The issue went to the NZRU who backed the medics and angered both coaches.

The worry lines were deepening in the All Black ranks. They had muddled through a wearying tour of Argentina before they hit the Wallaby storm clouds in the Bledisloe series. The Australians had caught and passed the All Blacks, their style, speed and instincts a shade sharper.

Repeating victory after winning four years earlier was starting to look a great deal tougher, while the off-field sniping and division did little to heal the wounds.

The All Blacks' long winning sequence through 1987 and beyond until 1990 hid some frailties. Victory meant it was awkward to make changes, perhaps even harder to pinpoint where they should be made.

The selectors settled on Shelford as a scapegoat but the rest escaped. Victories came but there was no corresponding rise in production. The NZRU tweaked the coaching crew and annoyed Wyllie, who had been the supremo and now had an unwanted Hart as his public ally.

If men like Gallagher, Kirwan, Fox, Kirk, Shelford, Jones, the Whettons and Drake had been match-winning colossi four years earlier, who were the dominant figures for the men in black going to be in 1991?

Jones was still strong but crucially did not play on Sundays; Little was sharp but not tried until too late; Ian Jones was still coming into his locking game and Fitzpatrick was gnarly.

The total class had diminished, there was an edge of fatigue around the 13 who returned from 1987 and a lack of bite from the new selections.

Good Vibrations by Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch is at No 1 when the Cup kicks off, but Bryan Adams' (Everything I Do) I Do It for You is the hit of the year.

1991 in the news

May 26
Rajiv Ghandi, the former Prime Minister of India, is assassinated in Madras.

June 17
South Africa's Parliament votes to repeal the legal framework for apartheid. Three years later, Nelson Mandela is elected President.

August 7
Billy T. James, entertainer, comedian and Kiwi legend, dies

August 6
Tim Berners-Lee releases files describing his idea for something called the "World Wide Web"

November 24
Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the band Queen, dies from the Aids virus.

July 1
As the Soviet empire crumbles, the Warsaw Pact is dissolved. Two weeks later, Boris Yeltsin becomes the first freely elected President of the Russian Republic. By December, the Soviet Union is breaking up as President Mikhail Gorbachev resigns.

September 28
Miles Davis dies from the combined effects of a stroke, pneumonia and respiratory failure, aged 65.

December
Buckingham Palace announces the separation of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Their divorce is not finalised until 1996.


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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