It all began 30 years ago. Australia v Scotland. Sydney Cricket Ground. After babbling my first Test match report for The Sun-Herald country edition to a similarly confused copytaker back in the old Fairfax office in Broadway, I headed to the Australian dressing rooms to get quotes for the then chief rugby writer Jim Webster.
One of the first people I saw in the room was Mark Ella, who had been overlooked for the Test but had come to congratulate his teammates on a 24-point win. I introduced myself and said I was covering my first Wallabies Test. Ella replied: ”Stick around … something’s brewing.”
He saved me. I did stick around. It was the night when there was a mass walkout of players for the coming 1982 Wallabies tour of New Zealand. There was chaos in the room when the word got out that nine of the victorious Wallabies had made themselves unavailable. So uproar on day one of covering this team. A tough initiation.
What followed was three decades of ”something brewing”, which meant trying to keep afloat in the ever-swirling cesspool of Australian rugby politics. That often got you down. What didn’t was the vibrancy and excitement of being almost always on tour with the Wallabies, and being ringside for such special moments as the 1986 Bledisloe Cup triumph and the World Cup victories in 1991 and 1999.
The standouts from 20-odd Wallabies tours and hundreds of Test matches? Easy. Best player: John Eales. Best match: 1991 World Cup quarter-final against Ireland in Dublin. Best individual performance: Tim Horan 1999 World Cup semi-final against South Africa at Twickenham.
Great friendships have been made, and have endured the test of time. But, most importantly, being with the Wallabies gave me, an innocent bushie, the chance to see the world at someone else’s expense.
And what a perfect venue to finish off – Rosario in wild and crazy Argentina, where this week there have been constant reminders of the reasons so many people are enchanted with this game. This was not the usual SANZAR ”in and out and get this Test over and done with” truck stop. This Test had flavour, meaning, international camaraderie.
Those few Australians who travelled halfway around the world for Saturday’s international were embraced by the locals, who celebrated the fact that Wallabies followers had made the effort to get here. The Wallabies players were also made to feel welcome – a great relief after a week of solitary confinement in South Africa.
The media in Rosario could not have done more for the three Australian scribes at the Test. Match day began with the ”third half” – a sumptuous feast on the banks of the Rosario river, with every meat cut known to man sizzling away on a coal barbecue. There were endless photographs and speeches before the Australian media pack was handed its present – a five-kilogram meat hamper. That will take some explaining at Sydney customs.
Onto the game. More hugs and kisses from the locals. And more chaos. We had walked into an ”old school” ground. No clock. No electronic scoreboard. And gargantuan spiders had invaded the press box, with the match program’s best use being to squish anything that came near our laptops. Then we witnessed a gutsy, courageous Wallabies victory under the most trying of conditions.
To top it all off, hours after full-time, the members of the Australian media pack, knowing about six words of Spanish between them, flagged down a dilapidated bus that went past the ground, hoping it was heading to the centre of town, not Buenos Aires or the Amazon. To our shock, it dropped us off in front of our hotel. What a city. What a country. A memorable day and night. The ideal finale.
But is that the sun rising? The tango must eventually end. It’s time to turn the page. Chapter two beckons. Taxi.
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