Major teams: Brothers, Queensland
Test span: 1991-2001
Test caps: 86 (86 starts)
Test points: 173 (2T, 31C, 34P)
Rugby’s Greatest: John Eales
His famous nickname Nobody, as in ‘nobody’s perfect’, is a myth because none of his mates call him that. But everything else you hear about the wonder that is John Eales is true.
The Queenslander showed remarkable lineout athleticism at a young age, with England’s Paul Ackford highlighting the youngster’s ability to make space for himself in such a claustrophobic area shortly before the first of Eales’s 86 caps in 1991.
Eales was just 20 when he made his Test debut and, though his scrum power and general mobility took a little while to develop, within months he was playing in a World Cup.
Coach Bob Dwyer, who had quickly abandoned an experiment to turn him into a No 8, was vindicated by a series of outstanding performances. Together with Rod McCall, Eales won the lineouts 28-2 against Wales and his try-saving tackle on England fly-half Rob Andrew in the final drew gasps – 6ft 7in locks weren’t meant to do that!
His kicking had already come to notice with an amazing 45m drop-goal for his club Brothers. And a couple of blinding slip catches in a cricket match convinced Queensland coach John Connolly that Eales had the coordination to be a goalkicker – he was to kick 164 Test points, including the last-minute penalty that won the 2000 Bledisloe Cup.
Named Wallaby captain at the start of the Greg Smith era in 1996, Eales was to lead his country 55 times – putting him ninth on the all-time list. His high point was a second world title back on British soil in 1999, when Eales became one of only six men at that point to achieve a World Cup double.
He had time to beat the British & Irish Lions in 2001 before retiring as the most capped second-row in history, a record since surpassed.
Wallaby team-mate Jason Little once said: “It got to the point where I thought Ealsey was going to kick off, catch it himself, go all the way, score the try and kick the goal.”
He was echoing the thoughts of many.