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The years, the men, the nights, the tours, the team ... the end

RUCK & MAUL

Bob Dwyer and Nick Farr-Jones after beating the All Blacks, Wellington, 1995. Click for more photos

Greg Growden's Wallabies

Legendary rugby writer Greg Growden picks his best Wallabies tourists. 

After 20-odd years (with the emphasis on odd) of taking the mickey, it's time for the farewell Ruck and Maul column. And many thanks to long-time confidant Helmut Wasching, who is leading a Wallabies supporters group through Argentina, for how to finish it all off in style. As Helmut explained over a Quilmes Cerveza on the Santa Fe Boulevard in Rosario: ''You've given misguided rugby administrators enough curry over the years; it's time to celebrate the real heart and soul men of the game.''

You're right, Helmut. So here it is: R@M's Best Wallabies Tourists XV. Having wandered with the Wallabies all over the globe since 1986, I have witnessed the behavioural patterns of every form of human being - extrovert, introvert, downright loony, sometimes scary. But among them all have been some great characters. Here's the pick of the crop.

Fullback:

Greg Martin. A natural wit and delighted to be there when his broadcasting career began. The 1990 Wallabies played in New Plymouth during a torrential storm. Martin joined Peter Longman and myself in calling the game for ABC Radio. We couldn't see a thing. The box had fogged up and numerous drunks were standing in front of the window. Longman did as best he could, while Martin and I made the rest up. Martin and Longman kicked on.

Wings:

David Campese. Because he would drive me mad with text messages if I didn't include him. An exasperating character at times, but always entertaining, unpredictable and impossible not to like.

Adam Ashley-Cooper: How can you not be attracted to someone about to eat a meat pie before being beckoned for his Test debut? And his sensational Johnny Weissmuller-esque dive off the rocks before the start of the 2007 World Cup is a YouTube highlight. Check it out.

Centres:

Jason Little. A great prankster, who never took it too seriously. The term ''Jasonism'' was used by Wallabies for ''the most ridiculous comment, suggestion or action by a member of a touring party''.

Michael Cook: Another endearing Queenslander who was heavily involved in a special rugby moment. During the 1988 Wallabies-Barbarians match at Cardiff Arms Park, Cook threw the last pass to Campese, who went on to score one of his most famous tries. As Campese returned to centre field, Cook stood to attention and clapped him back to his spot. This prompted the crowd to give Campese a standing ovation.

Five-eighth:

Mark Ella. The maestro and a marvellous friend. His help on my first Wallabies tour of New Zealand in 1986 will never be forgotten. Ella, just retired and commentating for the ABC, followed the Wallabies around the country - a smart move, especially as his close colleague Campese was in meltdown mode. One late night, completely lost in the back streets of Wellington, Ella turned to me and said: ''Don't worry, the black tracker will get you home.'' He did.

Halfback:

Nick Farr-Jones. The best Australian captain I dealt with. A master raconteur and friend to thousands.

No.8:

Tim Gavin. So laconic. So bush. So down to earth. So sad he didn't play in the 1991 World Cup.

Breakaways:

Simon Poidevin. The ultimate warrior. Can vividly remember walking up to him in the Eden Park dressing rooms in 1986, when the Wallabies had won the Bledisloe Cup, and with emotion the King uttered: ''Now I can live in peace.''

Sam Scott-Young. A larger-than-life lug. Hilarious times when he baited the All Blacks during the haka.

Second row:

John Eales. Behind that angelic face is the most mischievous of men.

Peter FitzSimons. The pied piper of the 1989 Wallabies tour of France, where everyone followed him because he was the only one who could speak the language. Got eye-gouged in one tour game, prompting him to remark: ''It's the first time in my life that my eyes have been twisted so much that I have seen my own brain … and it is big.''

Front row:

Geoff Didier: The Duke. Say no more.

Tatafu Polota-Nau: The greatest of Wallabies ambassadors. I've seen him speak Japanese to delight Tokyo rugby officials, Tongan when Sekope Kepu went back to his Auckland school during last year's World Cup, and then wow the Argentinian media with some Spanish at a news conference in Rosario this week.

Dan Crowley: The best man to have a drink with. You know you're safe with this one-time undercover cop.

Backup: Berrick Barnes, Rod McCall, Anthony Herbert, Steve Merrick, Peter Slattery, James Grant, Marty Roebuck, Ewen McKenzie, Matt Dunning, Steve Lidbury.

Coach: Bob Dwyer. Unlike several paranoid Wallabies coaches I couldn't be bothered naming, Bob always wanted his players to enjoy the experience of touring. They did.

Team manager: 'Smoking' Joe French. For conducting a news conference in South Africa in his pyjamas, for demanding accommodation in France be changed after it was discovered they were housed in a mental asylum, and for sitting next to Princess Di at a Test match. His thoughts: ''She knew £@$%all about rugby.''

Media liaison: Howard Northey. Cards and weird substances his speciality. His hotel room was a home away from home for many Wallabies.

The reunion will start at Chippy Lane, Cardiff, and then drinks for departed colleagues, such as Smokin' Joe and Howie, at Bad Bob's, Dublin.

78 comments

  • No Greg I will not allow it .... I wanted to be in retirement still reading your column ... it wont do!

    Dont leave us

    Commenter
    John O'Neil
    Date and time
    October 05, 2012, 12:58AM
    • you mean no more ruck and maul ever again?

      Commenter
      alsats
      Date and time
      October 05, 2012, 1:00AM
      • The picture you have of Dan Crowley executing a charge down on a Keith Wood clearing kick is actually Chris Latham. When have you ever seen a prop get out wide enough from a ruck to charge down a kick even if it is a hooker kicking. Ed: Thanks. Being changed now

        Commenter
        stojo01
        Location
        Zeadney
        Date and time
        October 05, 2012, 1:02AM
        • It can happen Stojo - a tight head prop mate of mine made a match saving tackle on a flying winger in a Sydney club final. His explanation - 'I was out of position again mate having a breather and the bugger ran straight into me.'

          Commenter
          DM
          Location
          Canberra
          Date and time
          October 05, 2012, 9:31AM
        • Well dan sometimes did. It can be tough dragging so much muscle around the park.

          Commenter
          Long Xuyen
          Location
          Viet Nam
          Date and time
          October 05, 2012, 10:04AM
      • I don't care about any of this. JUST TELL US WHO RADIO IS!!!!

        Commenter
        Tre Steele
        Location
        Cambridge
        Date and time
        October 05, 2012, 1:12AM
        • Best wishes to Greg for the future. Always read your posts, even if the Super Rugby teams of the week and comments on the video feeds were hilarious at times.

          The great thing with Greg's pieces was his ability to snout out the little goings-on and bickering in Rugby politics, especially the NSW clowns. Greg's comments on the Wallaby matches and tactics/non-tactics were usually spot on and his polite way of saying the referee/linesmen were mugs, blind or officious showed his class.

          Good luck Greg, we will miss you.

          Commenter
          ThugbyFan
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          October 05, 2012, 1:59AM
          • Payed well done good!

            Commenter
            Congrats
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            October 05, 2012, 6:39AM
            • surely you only included Peter Fitzsimons because his ego demanded it (and he probably sits at the next desk). You got one thing right though, speaking French would have to be his biggest rugby achievement.

              Commenter
              JJ
              Date and time
              October 05, 2012, 6:43AM
              • I think it's a helluva stretch to call what Fitzy was speaking French.

                Commenter
                Karma Police
                Date and time
                October 05, 2012, 8:47AM

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