December 8, 1984. Edinburgh, Scotland.
It was a wet, cold, and miserable afternoon in the Scottish capital that greeted the Wallabies as the prepared for the final Test match of their 1984 tour of the UK and Ireland. After victories over England, Ireland and Wales, they now stood on the brink of creating Australian Rugby history by becoming the first team to complete the Grand Slam.
The miserable conditions could not dampen the excitement of local Rugby fans, with 65,000 cramming into Murrayfield to watch their national team bring an end to the visitors winning ways. Deep in the bowels of the grand old monument to Scottish Rugby, Wallabies Coach Alan Jones addressed his team keen to impress upon them the historic magnitude of the 80 minutes to follow. “In life there a four things that never come back,” he told his all-conquering squad. “The arrow that is fired, the spoken word, time spent, and lost opportunity.”
The sentiment of his words would have been keenly felt by his team who were just four months removed from the harsh taste of opportunity lost. On the same day that Bold Personality attempted to pass for Fine Cotton in Brisbane, the Wallabies had the chance to take ownership of the Bledisloe Cup in a deciding Third Test at the SCG.
Despite a thrilling try to David Campese, and the better of the penalty count 19-7, the Wallabies trailed 25-24 late in the match largely due to the boot of future coach Robbie Deans. With the visitors grimly defending their line, Mark Ella twice had the chance to retake the lead for Australia only to see his field-goal attempts sail wide and with them a gilt-edged opportunity to reclaim Trans Tasman supremacy.
“The best team won,’ Jones said magnanimously in defeat.”There are no excuses for Australia. We didn’t use the ball intelligently.”I can’t believe we didn’t run the ball along the backline – but if there is any blame to be taken for that, it’s mine.” It was clear four months later in Edinburgh, that it was not the kind of mistake he wanted to be responsible for a second time.
Led by a forward pack, more than capable of overpowering the best the All Blacks could throw at them, laying the foundation. With a backline at his disposal containing the likes of Roger Gould, David Campese, Andrew Slack, Michael Lynagh, Mark Ella and Nick Farr-Jones it is easy to see why.
It was hard work early though for the Aussies, on this day in Edinburgh. Despite having the breeze at their back in the first half, they enjoyed just a 12-9 lead at the break after a David Campese try in the 14th minute. Half-Time was the eye of the cyclone, with the Wallabies coming out after the break with record-breaking intentions.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, the first record fell when Ella crossed from an inside pass from Gould to record his own personal Grand Slam. After scoring four-pointers against England, Ireland and Wales, this effort saw him become the first touring player to score tries against each of the four IRB nations. It was enough to make the usual reserved Ella display unusual emotion.
“I’ve never thrown the ball in the air before,” Ella said post-match. “But it was an incredible feeling and an important part of my best day in Test rugby. It was a great thrill to score in each match of the series and the try also gave us a 12-point lead which I was sure would be enough.” The Wallabies weren’t done there though.
A smart lineout play saw Farr-Jones crash over, before a magnificent long-range effort beginning with a Peter Grigg intercept and sharp hands ended with a Campese sprinting 60 metres to the tryline. As he had all afternoon, Lynagh stepped up to convert the try to a chorus of jeers from the crowd. It had little effect on the 21-year-old who calmly nailed his eighth goal from nine attempts.
The final siren followed shortly after to bring an end to an incredible 40 minutes of scoring from the Australians. Along with completing the team’s historic Grand Slam, the final scoreline of 37-12 represented the highest score and biggest winning margin to that time over an IRB country. Lynagh’s contribution of 21-points equaled the highest tally by an Australian against any of England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales.
It was the kind of performance that prompted praise from even the most hardened Scot. “It is no fun watching Scotland being beaten let alone thrashed, “Norman Mair wrote in The Scotsman. “Not normally but on Saturday the Rugby the of the Wallabies transcended mere patriotism and left anyone with a real feeling for the game enchanted. The crowd saluted them rather as they used to rise fo Don Bradman after he had butchered the England attack. ‘Poetry and murder lived in him together,’ said Somerset’s Scotsman, R. C. Robertson-Glasgow, of the Don, and so might we say of the Wallabies who took Scotland apart at Murrayfield.”
The Wallabies Coach was also willing to sing his team’s praises post-match. “I take the Gucchi view about hard work on the practice field,” Jones told the waiting press. “Long after you’ve paid the price, the quality remains. Lots of times when it’s cold and dark and damp and wet, you feel like packing it in and going under a hot shower. But we stuck it out.”
All these decades later, the stamp of quality earned through refusing to pack it in, means that the 1984 Wallabies remain one of the best teams to pull on the gold jersey. Having heeded their coach’s lessons of the four things that never come back, this team proved once again the truth that pain might be temporary but glory is forever.