I spoke to Darren Lockyer, the Australian captain, for Thirteen in the build-up to the 2005 Tri-Nations series in England. Australia went on to top the group but lose the final 24-0 to New Zealand, their first loss in any competition since a Test series with the French in 1978.
Darren, how is the Australian side shaping up?
Yes, things are going okay for us. We’ve got a pretty fair squad. I reckon it’s the best we’ve taken away since the 2000 World Cup. Some of the guys who have missed out with injuries are back and keen to play.
You must enjoy the English winter. This is the fifth time you’ve toured. With World Cups thrown in, that’s the same as Mal Meninga.
Yes, it’s becoming a bit of a second home. I always enjoy going over there but I wish it was a little warmer. This will be the last Kangaroo tour for a few years and I’ll be pretty lucky to be around in 2010 for the next one.
Was there any chance of you taking Gorden Tallis’s advice and pulling out of the series?
No, not at all. When the Broncos finished the season poorly, a lot of things were said but I never lost the motivation to tour. The season ending on a sour note for the Broncos gives me more of a reason to be making the trip.
How has your form been this year?
I started the season off well and so did the Broncos. We led the competition for most of the way through. Origin was disappointing and my form was average there. At the back end of the season I got a hamstring injury. So, not the best of seasons for me, but my best performance was probably in the semi-finals against Wests Tigers when we went out.
Have you followed the English competition much this year?
Yes, a little bit. There’s Brad Meyers and Michael de Vere from the Broncos playing over there. Leeds started well and then the Saints came through and, of course, Bradford are always renowned for their big forward pack.
Who do you regard as the British and Kiwi dangermen?
For New Zealand, there’s Stacey Jones on the Australasian leg of the tour, then over in the UK, if we play them again, there’s Brent Webb at full back. He’s another player who can make things happen for them. For Great Britain, I’d say Keiron Cunningham. He’s been playing well hasn’t he? In the 2000 World Cup, he was a handful against us for the Welsh and, not having been in the international game for a while, he’ll be keen to play well.
Going back to the start of your international career, you made your debut under Bob Fulton in 1998 against New Zealand but it wasn’t the best of nights for you was it?
No it wasn’t! It’s my worst game for Australia to date. I came off the bench to replace Robbie O’Davis, who was injured. I made a couple of errors at the back and when a fullback does that on the first tackle there’s not much the side can do about it.
What do you put that poor performance down to?
Probably a combination of nerves and the slippery conditions but in the end maybe it was inexperience. I felt bad because it was Bob Fulton’s last game as coach of Australia and I felt responsible for him losing it.
What do you remember of the 1999 Tri-Nations?
The Kiwis were very strong that year. Great Britain were a bit underdone and didn’t do well but the Kiwis beat us in the opener and we only won the final by a couple of points.
The 2000 World Cup saw a fantastic Australian side tour. Is that the best Australian side you’ve played in?
Yes, I think so. The following year in 2001, we were struggling for injuries but in that World Cup we had Wendall Sailor on the wing and Brad Fittler, Andrew Johns and Brett Kimmorley in the middle. I think our current side can be as good but there’s a lot of work to be done first.
How worried were you in the semi final when the Welsh took that 22-8 lead?
You do start to panic a little because you’ve only got 80 minutes. We were losing at half time so we only had 40 minutes to fix things but one thing with Australia is we’re always going to fight to the end.
Was it over-confidence that led to the Welsh winning?
Yes, it probably was. Occasionally, it’s going to happen that you don’t show the opposition the respect that they deserve and it happened that night.
2001 saw some controversy with the original postponement of the tour. What actually happened?
Well, after 9/11, there was a lot of uncertainty over the travelling etc. We were young and we just wanted the decision to be made. The ARL had our best interests at heart and it was called off. Shane Webcke was the only player to stick to his word and stay behind and he’s definitely got to be respected for that. In the end, for most of us, it was too hard to give up the Australian jersey.
What about the series itself?
We came over and had five or six games to prepare so it wasn’t ideal but that’s not why we lost. Great Britain played very well, were the better team on the day and that’s why they won the first test. In the second game, the pressure was off Great Britain and on us but we responded well to that and won easily by 40-12. Then, in the third, the scoreline didn’t really reflect the game. Great Britain put a lot of pressure on us in the second half when the game was in the balance. In that series, there wasn’t a great deal between the two sides.
Moving onto the infamous one-off test in July 2002, was that an awesome Australian performance or a terrible British one?
Again, it’s hard for a team to travel over the world and hope things will come together. We’d just come off a State of Origin series and were test match hardened. We were on fire that night. Once the game was gone for Great Britain, we just got hungry for more.
Do you think Origin football is more intense than Test football?
I think Australia v Great Britain anywhere in the world is up there with an Origin match, particularly when we play in front of a full house over there. There’s so much passion in those games.
Do you think Great Britain sometimes play with too much passion and lost their discipline?
If you take the game back twenty years then it’d look pretty tame. Test football is about emotions being let loose but you’d have to ask Great Britain if they’re doing the wrong thing. When incidents happen, they spur us on.
In 2003 Australia were hit by injuries and only won each game by a small margin with the Adrian Morley sending off the main talking point.
When you lose a man, particularly that early on, everyone lifts and often you can go on and win. Great Britain didn’t quite manage that because we beat them late on. Once again, the scoreboard flattered us with regard to the 3-0 series whitewash. Anyone watching those Tests would have been watching from the first Test to the last.
How bad was your injury in 2004? Did you think you’d miss the final?
I was plagued with the rib injury last year and damaged them three times in the season. With my experience of the injury, I knew how to handle it so when they went in London, I immediately aimed for a return in the final and knew that I’d make it if I did everything right.
What took Australia so long to click in the series?
It takes times to get combinations together and we had a few variations in the halves during the tournament. When you mix and match your halves, it disrupts your team. Some days, the opposition don’t let you play well and, generally, our opponents didn’t let us play too well in the tournament until the final.
Was there any pre-match indication that you’d play such magnificent football in the final?
No, not at all. We were very relaxed in the dressing room. Great Britain went in as slight favourites and we knew we had to perform. Great Britain didn’t do a lot wrong, we were just having the sort of night when everything went right.
Yes, that’s putting it mildly! How is your partnership shaping up with Andrew Johns?
It’ll be a new experience for both of us. We got fluent with each other after a few sessions and I’m looking forward to it.