George Gregan is viewed as a rugby god in Australia. The talismanic scrum-half bagged 139 Test caps, a feat that cements him as one of the greatest players ever.
Major teams: Brumbies, Toulon, Suntory Sungoliath
Test span: 1994-2007
Australia caps: 139 (133 starts)
Test points: 99 (18T, 3DG)
In the dying seconds of the deciding Test against Australia in Sydney 15 years ago, the Lions still had a shot of snatching the series. Though 29-23 down, they had possession and were stretching their opponents. Then a pass went loose. Wallaby wing Andrew Walker scooped it up and walked over the touchline to end the game.
George Gregan stood just metres away. The diminutive scrum-half had played every minute of three high-octane encounters. He mimed a pistol with the first two fingers on his right hand, held the imaginary gun to his lips and blew the imaginary smoke away.
Similarly spiky bravado surfaced two years later in the same stadium. Australia led New Zealand 22-10. Sure of a spot in the World Cup final, they were awarded a breakdown penalty. Leaning over the ruck, captain Gregan delivered the immortal sledge: “Four more years, boys. Four more years.”
Defeat to England meant the Wallabies didn’t defend the crown they had taken in 1999 after beating France in the final in Cardiff. By then though, Gregan was well ensconced as his nation’s talisman.
Back in 1994, just four matches into a 139-cap international career, the then-21 year-old wrote himself into Bledisloe Cup legend with a stunning try-saving tackle on All Black wing Jeff Wilson. Australia triumphed 20-16.
Gregan’s first and last World Cups in 1995 and 2007 would also end in a knockout loss to England. However, his precise distribution and mathematical game management in partnership with fly-half Stephen Larkham, including a defence-splitting reverse pass close to the breakdown, brought huge success in the interim.
That superb half-back pairing appeared together 79 times for Australia and helped the Brumbies to the 2001 and 2004 Super 12 titles.
Fierce dedication was a cornerstone of Zambia-born Gregan’s longevity, and he spent his twilight years between Toulon and Japanese side Suntory Sungoliath.
Eddie Jones summed up the No 9’s achievements when Gregan reached 100 Tests against South Africa in 2004. “Anyone who plays 100 caps at 80 kilograms has got to have something going for him,” he said. “He’s just got incredible mental focus.”