Eden Park forbidding even for Wallabies greats

Slack has waited nearly three decades for the drought to break, for a Wallabies team to head to Auckland and not return home bloodied, bruised and, more often than not, utterly thrashed.

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He and Australian rugby fans will again be put through the emotional wringer this week as Michael Cheika’s side flies across ‘the ditch’ with expectations riding high in the wake of their stunning win over the world champions in Sydney last week.

With every passing year, the 22-9 win which sealed Australia’s first and only series victory in New Zealand has eased towards the realm of myth, while the pictures of Slack holding the Bledisloe Cup are tellingly mostly monochrome.

While praising Cheika for giving the Wallabies a renewed sense of purpose, Slack has few comforting words for his team when he speaks of a ground that has been a graveyard for men in gold jerseys.

“You always say it’s just another ground but it did have a bit of an aura,” the 59-year-old told Reuters in an interview.

“The sun generally wasn’t shining. It wasn’t tropical when we played there which is not what we necessarily loved.

“It’s very difficult to explain. Compared to all the Twickenhams and Murrayfields and whatever that I played in, it was the most foreboding. I’m blowed if I know why.

“We played there for Queensland a few times in front of 5,000 against Auckland, so when you play in front of 50,000 against the All Blacks it doesn’t get any easier.”

The 1986 team coached by Alan Jones contained a hit-parade of Wallabies stars, with flamboyant winger David Campese and one of the world’s finest halfback combinations in Michael Lynagh and Nick Farr-Jones.

They headed into the Eden Park decider on Sept. 6 with the series tied 1-1, having lost the second match in Dunedin after number eight Steve Tuynman had a try disallowed.

COLDER SHOULDER

The teams would normally fraternise after each game of a tour at dinners, but Jones grew tired of the niceties and demanded his charges give their hosts a colder shoulder.

“That particular tour, Alan Jones was pretty keen to keep the lid on it,” said Slack, who played at centre and captained the Wallabies in 19 tests from 1984-1987.

“After the second test, there was a function, and we were left in no uncertain terms that fraternising can be done when stumps were drawn on the tour because it wasn’t going to help our commitment to the task.

“I didn’t necessarily agree with that. That was the first time I remember it ever being said you’ve got to steer clear of them.”

On an overcast and drizzly day, the Wallabies were outplayed for the first half an hour and the turning point came when Argentine-born prop Enrique ‘Topo’ Rodriguez drove All Blacks hooker Hika Reid back with a crunching, try-saving tackle.

The big hit lifted the tourists and the Wallabies would canter away to win, the victory sealed with a try from the irrepressible Campese.

Slack said he felt prop Scott Sio, who played a key role in adding steel to the scrum in Sydney last week, had a touch of Rodriguez about him but found it hard to draw too many similarities between his team mates and Cheika’s side.

He detected a strong sense of purpose and belief in the 2015 Wallabies, however, qualities that were vital in toppling the All Blacks nearly 30 years ago.

“From the outside you see that there’s a relationship between the coach and the players that I’m not sure we’ve had for a long time so that gives us an extra reason to feel that we’ll be in the game,” said Slack.

“The code got a heck of a lift from some dodgy times after last week and there’s a real responsibility to ensure that’s maintained.

“If we get whacked we’re back to square one and suddenly last week gets forgotten.”

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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