Eales’ reputation is arguably the most unblemished of any sportsperson in Australia in the last two decades.
I’ve heard you say before that you weren’t retiring from something, but you were retiring to something.
That’s one of (manager) Chris White’s sayings, actually, from International Quarterback. And it’s so right. I remember very early on in my career I was talking to an Irish person and they said you have to love what you do, not what you did. And that’s very similar: it’s about living in the present for the future, not about living in the past.
When New Zealand won the Rugby World Cup, did you think it was at all an okay thing?
I was sitting closer to the French than New Zealanders, so I felt their pain. But that’s been 24 years of pain and waiting in between for the Kiwis. But look, I felt very pleased for them. Richie McCaw especially is a guy who deserves to be in a World Cup-winning team. The one I felt sorry for was Dan Carter; he’s such a great player (injured during the tournament). But McCaw I felt very pleased for. If you think of the captains who have won World Cups, there has been no one better than him as a player over the length of the time he has been dominant. It would have been a shame if he hadn’t been remembered for that.
I don’t suppose it made you feel better than the Reds winning the Super 15 tournament last year?
That brought so much joy. It’s funny – there’s something very tribal about your provincial team and your club team. I never won a premiership with (club team) Brothers – we went through a very lean patch, so when Brothers eventually won it a couple of years ago for the first time in more than 20 years, that was a great moment, and it was similar when the Reds won. You invest so much emotion – they were my teams ... It’s a bit different for your country,
I think. They were the teams that you grew up watching and loving and wanting to be a part of. I saw them play more than anyone else ...
Is Australian rugby too diluted with the number of regional teams we have now?
I think it probably is at the moment, but it won’t be in a few years. At some point you have to get weaker to get stronger in a sense, and when the best players come through for Australia, we’ll have more people to pick from. We’ve gone through this before – it happened when the Brumbies were set up. You eventually get there.
Are we going to beat Scotland and Wales this month?
I hope so. The Welsh are a really attractive team at the moment – it’s always a difficult time for them to tour, just at it is for us to tour north. But they’ll be good games to watch. Scotland have proved very difficult for a lot of teams over the last couple of years – they didn’t have a great Six Nations, but Wales had a really impressive Six Nations. I’m hopeful it’ll be a great series. Winning it will be really important, but there should be some enterprising rugby. The Welsh – you don’t go to sleep watching this team.
‒ Graem Sims