Revealed: How the Wallabies planned a walk-off threat in the 1999 World Cup final

Rugby World Cup
by Iain Payten in Japan

The Wallabies pre-planned the threat by captain John Eales to walk off the field in the 1999 Rugby World Cup final, to pressure Andre Watson into stopping France from eye-gouging Aussie players.

In the final episode of RUGBY.com.au’s podcast “Keep ‘em Nude: The Story of the 99ers”, former Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen and Eales have revealed how they formulated a plan earlier in the week to respond to dirty tactics used by the French in the decider, following a tip-off from the All Blacks.

Eales famously told referee Andre Watson in the middle of the final in Cardiff that he would take his team from the field if the whistleblower didn’t do something to rein in the French and their foul play, which involved alleged eye-gouging.

“I fear for my team’s safety,” Eales was heard to say over the referee microphone.

"If this continues, we will leave the field; we will just leave the field.”

It seemed an extraordinary threat in the heat of the moment, particularly given the Wallabies were heavy favourites and were leading in the game.

 

But in “Keep ‘em Nude”, Macqueen revealed the walk-off threat was part of a strategy to pressure Watson into action, and that Eales had made him promise he wouldn’t have to follow through with it.

"What had happened, we’d actually been contacted by the New Zealand management and they’d told us it had gone on right through the whole game (in the semi-final) and it had actually distracted the All Blacks and they had problems,” Macqueen says in the podcast. 

"So they said: ‘It will happen, it is going to be a problem'.

"We discussed how we’d go about it and the first thing we did was obviously talk to the referees about it and said: 'That’s a probem for us.' We said we didn’t want it to continue to go on, if it happened.

"Then I spoke to some of the players and I said: 'If there is eye-gouging, make the action with your hands so that the referee and the spectators can see what’s going on. Rather than just talk, so it actually put pressure on the referee, if it happened to anyone.’

"And I also spoke to John and said: 'If it continues, threaten to walk off the field even though we would never do that.'

"He said: 'As long as you promise we would never have to do that' and I said: 'No you don’t have to do that but we have to stop it'.

"So we had those three plans in place and sure enough it started but luckily it was stopped fairly quickly.”

After watching the French shock everyone by rattling the All Blacks in the semi-final, Eales said the Wallabies were determined to play the final on their terms.

"We were prepared for anything that day,” Eales said.

"I think the main thing was we were desperate that we weren’t going to lose a World Cup final because we were distracted. 


"So that was the most important thing. We said if anything happens during the game, then they were to come to me and I was the only one to speak with the referee.

"So that’s what they did and that’s what I did, and I spoke to him every time. 

"When it kept happening we had to escalate it a bit.”

The final episode of "Keep em Nude" also covers France' shock semi-final win, and how several Wallabies knew they'd win the final when they saw Les Bleus doing a victory lap afterwards.

Owen Finegan also recounts his try, and that the "Gregan ball" was so successful because rival forwards all broke defensive discipline when they had a chance to bash George Gregan.

Keep ‘em Nude is available on the online Whooshka player, or via iTunes podcasts and Spotify podcasts. Or ask Alexa for the podcast in the Rugby Xplorer skill.