Eales helps revive legend of All Blacks' biggest upset

Thu, Feb 15, 2024, 3:45 AM
by AAP
Wallabies rugby great John Eales has found himself in the unfamiliar territory of the theatre rehearsal room as a consultant to the play Alone It Stands.
Wallabies rugby great John Eales has found himself in the unfamiliar territory of the theatre rehearsal room as a consultant to the play Alone It Stands.

When you're staging a play about beating the All Blacks, you could do worse than give John Eales a call.

Given recent results between the trans-Tasman rivals, it's hard to fathom that Wallabies legend Eales held a winning record over New Zealand.

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As a 21-year-old playing the ninth of his 86 Tests, the towering second-rower was part of the Australia team that eliminated reigning champions New Zealand from the 1991 World Cup and went on to hoist the trophy aloft for the first time.

Given he retired in 2001, he was also captain the last time Australia beat the All Blacks in New Zealand, in what turned out to be his third-last Test for Australia.

So when Sydney's Ensemble Theatre began rehearsing its current production of Alone It Stands, there was only one man to call.

John Breen's comic play recounts Irish provincial side Munster's 1978 defeat of the touring All Blacks, a win that still ranks among world rugby's greatest upsets.

So dominant were the hosts in their 12-0 victory, the first by any Irish side over New Zealand, that winger Stu Wilson later said his All Blacks "were lucky to get nil".

Six actors are required to play 62 different characters between them, but for the talented company that would be just another day at the office.

Less familiar would be the process to familiarise themselves with a victory that shook one community of fans and invigorated another. 

That was when Eales joined the actors in the rehearsal room.

"What they were trying to get was a bigger insight into the game and understanding being part of a team and a game like that," Eales told AAP.

"And what does a game like that mean?

"They were actually interested in understanding rugby on a deeper level."

As well as he knows the elation of beating the All Blacks, Eales witnessed his own Munster ambush when the Wallabies toured Europe in 1992.

Eales, rested for that 22-19 loss, shared his lasting memories of touring Ireland with the actors. 

"The Irish rugby supporters, and particularly the Munster rugby supporters are quite unique in many respects," he said.

"You're in a town where rugby is super important. You know it's going to be a very difficult game whenever you play the game."

And even if only in the confines of the stage, Eales has enjoyed having one last chance to help plot the All Blacks' downfall.

"The All Blacks get beaten so seldomly that when they do, and particularly by a provincial team, it is something to celebrate," he said.

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