Farr-Jones still fighting the good fight
Australia's Rugby World Cup winner is firmly in the Asian camp. Robby Nimmo reports
When Nick Farr-Jones captained Australia to victory in the second Rugby World Cup in 1991 at Twickenham, rugby was a different game - on and off the field.
These days, Farr-Jones does not take the easy path of living off his former glories, which included bringing home the William Webb Ellis Cup.
A chronic over-achiever, who by his own admission can't say no, Farr-Jones finds himself on a diverse range of committees and boards, still living by his on-pitch mantra, 'Whatever it takes'. There is a sense the lawyer-turned-banker, as a Christian father of four, likes to put the world right and act for the greater benefit of many.
Whereas once his mission was to win the World Cup, one of his recent missions has been to get Asia to host the World Cup. Dedicated to the belief that the game's influence should expand geographically, he describes it as a 'blunder' that Japan lost the 2011 bid.
'I was an ambassador to Japan for the last bid. It should have happened,' he says, noting that at the end of this World Cup in France, there would have been three tournaments held in the traditional rugby hotbeds of Europe and three in the southern hemisphere.
'The next one should have been set in a neutral place, where the north and south met and had a great party. We have to try to encourage junior nations to develop their game.
'I have a huge respect for New Zealand rugby. I love going there, I love taking my family there. I enjoy their history, and what they've done for the game, but the 2011 tournament shouldn't have gone there. It should have gone to Japan,' says Farr-Jones.
The Australian was a guest speaker at the Standard Chartered Rugby World Cup dinner at the Island Shangri-La hotel this week, where his address touched upon a wide variety of rugby-related issues.
'As to the notion of rugby at the Olympics? A resounding 'no'. The World Cup is already rugby's answer to the Olympic Games. To have rugby at the Olympics would detract from the vast contribution the Rugby World Cup has made to the game.
'Rugby at the Olympics is physically impossible. There are not enough nations who are competitive enough to make it a fair contest. As the Olympics are only 15 days long, there's not enough time to play the games required for a tournament.
'The last decade of rugby has seen the small nations get smaller, and there are so few nations at the top. When I started playing international games in 1984, I headed to Fiji - a common pattern for the Australian players of this era.
'It happens on very rare occasions now. We need to do more to help the smaller nations become more competitive and bring more countries into the ring.
'I think nations like Japan, China and South Korea have the potential to grow into strong rugby centres, as will post-glasnost Russia. It will take time, and we need to do more to help the infrastructure and culture of rugby in these nations.
'Also, I'd like to see a two-tier system in 15-a-side rugby where these smaller nations get to play beneath the main tier in order to grow more competitive.
'There's a big issue in Australia right now that the Springboks are sending a second-string team abroad [for the remaining Tri-Nations matches], as have the French, the Welsh, and the Irish in the recent past. It demeans test match rugby.
'We should change the seeding of nations in the World Cup. It shouldn't be based on how they performed in the previous World Cup, it should be based on how they play and perform in the intervening four years. That would make it more of a contest, as people would have to turn up with their best team to win matches.'
Farr-Jones last appeared on Hong Kong's guest-speaker circuit in 2002 when he spoke at a charity dinner for the victims of the 2002 Bali bombing.
This time he was pitting his speaking skills against former England captain Will Carling, Welshman Ieuan Evans and former All Black Josh Kronfeld.
With the exception of Kronfeld, all these players were from the amateur era. Kronfeld has seen both sides of the equation and said he had no regrets losing in the final of the 1995 World Cup to hosts South Africa.
'I'd only been playing international rugby for a year, and I was just stunned to be there. It hit a lot of the older guys in the team harder. I was a young fella and it was just one great eye-opening adventure from start to finish.'
But, like Farr-Jones, he feels there is room for improvement in the state of rugby. 'I don't agree with the rotation, having 10 to 15 new All Blacks every year. It cheapens the jersey. But I do accept that rugby as a professional sport is still in the very early stages. Other professional sports have got 60 years on us. We're still feeling our way at a professional level.'
Farr-Jones has no regrets about the era in which he played. 'I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said: 'Don't you wish you'd played in the professional era'. I can look those people in the eye and say, 'I'm the last of the lucky ones'.
'I enjoyed playing when I played. I am glad I was an amateur, I am glad I was able to do tertiary education. When I was dragged out in my rugby coffin, life didn't change dramatically. Life went on. I still had my job. I woke up in the morning, and went to work. I enjoyed the great touring. Touring that didn't just include going to major cities and playing test matches. It wasn't just a case of 'the dog barks, the caravan moves on'.
'We got to go to exotic regions, we experienced the culture. I am sure today's professional player enjoys what he does and enjoys getting paid to do that, but I enjoyed playing when I did.'
Farr-Jones says he will never forget his first Wallabies tour - to Ireland in 1984.
'The older players said, 'keep your eyes and ears open, you won't believe this place'.
'The first thing I saw when at the baggage carousel in Dublin was a huge poster, 'Fly Aer Lingus and you'll never walk again'. We took a walk to see what the ground was like. There, 50 metres from the great Lansdowne Road stadium, was a sign on a telegraph pole, 'Lansdowne Road, previous turn on your left'.'
Farr-Jones warned that the French would be dangerous in the World Cup in September and October, despite two heavy defeats by the All Blacks.
'I saw what the French were like on their home turf in the soccer World Cup in 1998. I was living in France at the time and I witnessed first hand the power of their nationalistic pride.
'When I was about to move to France for four years, I called up [fellow 1991 World Cup teammate] Peter FitzSimons. He said: 'Farr, to understand the French, you've got to understand the thing called 'the spirit of the church bells'. It means when a French person hears the church bells of their home town ringing in their ear they are forbidden to lose. When they go away from their home town, they can roll over and die, but on their own turf, losing is not an option'.
'Fitzo went on, 'I'll give you an example of how it works: I'll never forget in 1987 we went down to a tough French port town on the Mediterranean. When we turned up to play they were biting, scratching, punching, kicking. And that was just the hot dog vendors. We lost 76 points to nil. If the truth be known, we were lucky to get to nil.
'At the World Cup this year, when the French hear the church bells ringing on their home turf, I suspect they'll be dangerous.'
'My advice to today's teams is enjoy yourselves, have fun. Open up. Get into the streets of Montpelier; spend an hour after training to sign autographs. If you get criticised, there's only one way to respond, and that's on the field.
'If you have fun, at the end of the day you strut your stuff better, too. When I look back to 1991, that's what I'm proudest of. We engaged the public, the press - everyone. And we had a great time. Even if the current team don't win, they can come back and say they had a great time, and that's what rugby should be about.
'Rugby is growing and getting bigger and bigger. Even if you don't win, there's always what the French call 'the third half of the game'. There's still the wine, the foie gras, the cheese, the food and the whole experience to be enjoyed. It's going to be fantastic.'
THE FACTS ABOUT NICK FARR-JONES
1 His first love was soccer and he only took up rugby at high school, as soccer was not on the curriculum. He first made a name for himself playing at the University of Sydney where he studied law (1980-85).
2 A scrumhalf, he won 63 caps for Australia and was captain for 36 consecutive tests from 1988 to 1992.
3 1991 World Cup-winning coach Bob Dwyer said: 'He was a superlative player and leader, and among the best three players I ever had in the Wallabies.'
4 Co-authored Nick and Cuts with fellow Wallaby Steve Cutler. His later biography, Nick Farr-Jones: The Authorised Biography, penned by his mate and fellow 1991 player Peter FitzSimons, was a best-seller just weeks after release in July 1993.
5 Retired from rugby in 1993 and joined Societe Generale, relocating to Paris with his family for four years. He has worked for the bank for the past 14 years.