Local resident and Australian rugby great, Nick Farr-Jones, takes us on a journey from where it all began to life today. It was a great pleasure to meet Wallabies hero, Nick Farr-Jones and his wonderful family, including their adorable puppy, George (starring on the winter edition’s cover)!
Sitting on the balcony of his family home eating choc-chip cookies and drinking tea, we had the pleasure of visiting this former Wallabies captain and ambassador, together with his lovely wife, Ange. Nick and Ange have four children Jessica, Amy, Benjamin and Joshua, and one extremely cute puppy named George.
Nick remains one of the most respected and valued figures in Australian sport. He played for Australia for ten consecutive years and was captain for five of those years, which included leading the Wallabies to their 1991 Rugby World Cup victory.
Being one of the last to play in the amateur game, Nick was a lawyer by day. Since retiring from rugby, he has also worked in the banking sector and more recently the mining and resource sector.
A born leader, Nick has led world-class sports people and executed global business plans, motivating many to reach their dreams in sport and the corporate world alike.
"When Ange told her family the news of her new boyfriend who might play rugby for Australia one day, Ange’s father (who knows and loves rugby) replied sarcastically, 'Sure he will'"
You met your now wife, Ange, while you were both at university and married her in 1989. Can you tell us about the early days and how she supported you and your rugby career?
Ange had come up from Adelaide, so the least I could do was take her under my wing. Back then she had no idea about the game. She tells the story of watching me play a 1st grade game in 1983 at Sydney University where she asked my St Andrew’s College mates whether they thought I was a good player. They replied, “Yeah, yeah, he’s actually a reasonable player; people are talking about him one day playing for Australia”. When Ange told her family the news of her new boyfriend who might play rugby for Australia one day, Ange’s father (who knows and loves rugby) replied sarcastically, “Sure he will”. The next year I put on a gold jersey and played for Australia. Later he came along on one of the long tours with us.
Are you a rugby-watching family?
No, we don’t watch a lot of rugby. In fact, earlier this year, Amy, my second daughter who is nineteen, noticed a tape playing from the 1992 tour in South Africa (when South Africa had just opened up again; Mandela had been released). It was a documentary about the two-week four-match tour. Josh, my youngest boy, loves rugby so he was watching it. Amy came up behind him and commented that she had never seen me play. As you can see, I don’t have rugby memorabilia or tapes in my house, and generally life is so busy that we don’t sit in front of TV much. Occasionally, Josh and I watch a super game. Ange will watch it provided she knows someone who is playing.
Ange toured with you before you had children, was it hard to balance family and career?
It is always different [with family], however, a lot of people forget I was playing in the amateur days. Jess was born two days before we played England while we were in camp Wollongong preparing for the World Cup. I told my coach, “I am not sure when I will see you again” but it didn’t matter as we cleaned out England that Saturday. Two weeks later we beat New Zealand and we took Jess into the changing room. When she was two months we went to the World Cup and Ange brought Jess along. Amy was born in my last year of rugby, in 1993. I always had to also juggle in my day job as a lawyer, so I was used to it.
"This place [North Shore] is fantastic!...it’s leafy and has a quarter of an acre backyard where kids can run around. It has good schools where sports are encouraged and non-pretentious people."
How long have you lived on the North Shore?
Jess was two when we bought a place in Willoughby. Then we disappeared to Paris for four years. We bought in Lindfield in 2000. This place is fantastic! It reminds me of where I grew up; it’s leafy and has a quarter of an acre backyard where kids can run around. It has good schools where sports are encouraged and non-pretentious people.
Do you have a favourite local café?
I am not a big coffee drinker, but I would say Tablespoon (Lindfield) and Deli in the Park (East Lindfield).
Your other great passion is supporting charities. Can you tell us a bit about your volunteer work?
Cardiac arrest is the biggest killer in the western world. Ange works at CARDIAC Responder (CR) and I am a patron of the foundation. Cardiac arrest is electrical, which is different than a heart attack. The only way to bring a person back to life is to give them the shock. CR looks to deploy defibrillator/ AED rescue systems in work places. We put a few in the Australian Golf Club, and soon after, one of our staff had an arrest; he was resuscitated and years later he’s still going very well.
I have been on the board of Wesley Mission for many years. Through Touch Life I strive to do something a bit more at the coalface. The cause of the homeless is dear to me. We did a big event in 2008 and now have an annual sports person’s dinner to raise money. I also support Streetwork for those that fall through the cracks.
I do a lot of different things! I am in China tomorrow, when I get back I am hosting a golf day for NSW Rugby, we’re mentoring indigenous students to help them transition to future education or work.
10 QUICK RUGBY QUESTIONS
Jonah Lomu or David Campese? Campo was one of the greatest players I played with. I was lucky enough to have stopped before Lomu arrived.
SFS or Cricket Ground? SFS
Best All Black ever? Michael Jones
Run, kick or pass? Pass and run
World Cup or Bledisloe Cup? World Cup
Reds or Brumbies? Both
Best friend in the Wallabies? Peter FitzSimons
Favourite country on tour? France and Ireland
Australia’s next World Cup win? Like to think 2015, but realistically 2019 in Japan
Greatest influences as a child? My heroes were people like tennis player Bjorn Borg, golfer Jack Nicklaus, and Michael Hawker (current chairman of Australian Rugby Union).
Favourite players today? I have great admiration for Richie McCaw (a great leader), Dan Carter, Brian O’Driscoll and Will Genia (a magnificent scrummer). Tatafu Polota-Nau is someone I have great admiration for, as he is always willing to connect with the community.
"In 1991, John Major (then British Prime Minister) came in to my change room...I jumped out to meet him and I was starkers! ...luckily no one could flick it around the world like they might today. I enjoyed that; a simpler life, not as intrusive."
What do you miss about the amateur game?
I miss long tours, three o’clock kick-offs, and a great thing the French call a troisième mi-temps (which translates as the third half). I have so many great mates around the word who I played against. Now, when it’s 7:30pm kick-off, there’s little chance to socialise with the opposition so I don’t think they get those good strong relationships. Also, you could have a day job, so when they carried you out in your rugby coffin life didn’t change.
In 1991, John Major (then British Prime Minister) came in to my change room, he was in his pinstripe suit. I jumped out to meet him and I was starkers! People did take photos of us talking, but luckily no one could flick it around the world like they might today. I enjoyed that; a simpler life, not as intrusive. Technology can over complicate life.
All these things were fantastic about the amateur game, but I knew the game had to change. I personally consider myself one of the last of the lucky ones.
"I never had an ambition or dream to play for the Wallabies, I never really thought about it. But every time I put on a uni or NSW jersey I just wanted to play as well as I could."
It’s probably encouraging for young people to know that you didn’t start playing until you were thirteen and then weren’t selected to play in your school’s 1st XV. How did you get from there to representative rugby?
I was always someone who worked my arse off. In sport I wanted to be very good at it. I was a pretty good player at school. I wasn’t disappointed not to have played 1st XV, but let me say this, there were a lot of guys who were big fish in a small pond. I had unfinished business. I was very hungry. You get a lot of kids, around 17-19 years old who lose a real hunger and I was very hungry. I never had an ambition or dream to play for the Wallabies, I never really thought about it. But every time I put on a uni or NSW jersey I just wanted to play as well as I could.
What was Allan Jones like as a coach?
How long have you got? [laughs] I was lucky to have Allan as a coach; an amazing person in many ways. He taught me a lot of things, but it is well documented that 1987 was a tough year and our friendship broke down a little bit. Then when Bob Dwyer, who replaced Jones in 1988, appointed me as captain out of the blue (I would have thought I was about eighth in line), Jones, in a way, turned on me. He must have thought I was part of his downfall, but nothing could be further than the truth. Jones might have been critical of me personally, or our team, and I would respond very publically, which is sometimes not wise when you’re dealing with Allan. It didn’t bother me. Anyway, we broke bread about six years ago when we had a reunion, with the 1984 team, at his place in the Southern Highlands. We get on fine now. I think there’s a mutual respect and I have great admiration for his preparedness to put some blood, sweat and tears into a lot of good causes.
In your opinion, does a current player emulate you at all?
I think the best scrum-half in the world at the moment is Will Genia, not comparing him to me, but I think he is slightly similar in that he’s a good runner and has good judgement.
How did your Christian faith impact your rugby career?
When you’re on tour, interacting closely to people, they get to see you and your heart. I would like to think I impacted people’s hearts. It is the little stuff. I was never banging people over the heads, but we had debates and discussions about it. There were years when I was fired up for God and years when I wasn’t going so well. Christianity is a roller coaster journey; it doesn’t mean you get a red carpet.
I never prayed for success, except in 1991. I am unashamed about that. I knew it was going to be my last roll of the dice, the World Cup, and I wanted the team to do really well so there was prayer for a long time about it. If you look at the greatest game against Ireland maybe there was a touch of intervention [laughs].
What was the highlight your rugby career and was it a tough decision to retire?
I expect what will be chiselled on my rugby tombstone is that I was lucky enough to captain the team. But for me it’s other highlights, probably more off the field; the mate-ship is the real highlight. It wasn’t a difficult decision to retire, even after twenty years I cherish the mate-ship. On the field: I was lucky enough to be in a great team that won a world cup, some of the great tours, wins against the All Blacks, and just pulling on your jersey for the first time are all highlights for me.
After you first retired, what made you come back to play four more tests?
Someone got injured so I got phone calls from my coach and from the captain who had replaced me. I struggled with it at first. I retired after our test against South Africa; it was finished business. I used to be super fit as I was a middle distance runner, then I sort of went out to pasture. I was still pretty fit, but not test match All Black fit.
Were you born a leader?
I captained a lot of teams when I was young and I felt I had to be like captains I had had in the past. But I learned that I just needed to let [my own leadership qualities] naturally come out rather than trying to change. We have to understand our gifts, I am not a preacher but I enjoy sharing my story: corporate stuff, as Chairman of NSW Rugby, encouraging young kids at school and doing the occasional church talk.
"Involving everyone in what you are going after is important; too often, senior people don’t include the juniors in a work environment"
Peter FitzSimons described you as having a volcanic desire to win and an inclusiveness of everybody. Do you agree that these are your main reasons for success?
Peter saw that up close. I don’t want to die wondering. I did whatever it took: a lot of blood and sweat, and passion on the field. Team spirit is critically important – how you communicate and include everyone, it’s the same as in a business environment. Involving everyone in what you are going after is important; too often, senior people don’t include the juniors in a work environment.
"I was prepared to pay the price, but as I say to kids, it is worth it"
Where did your mantra “I don’t want to die wondering”, come from?
It’s just an expression. Allan Jones once said, “long after the price is forgotten the quality remains”. So, here I am talking to you guys, twenty years into retirement, I don’t remember the pain or the hard work. It is hard to get to the top in anything without hard work; you pay a price. I was prepared to pay the price, but as I say to kids, it is worth it.
The quality remains, here I am reflecting on great aspects of my life, and great opportunities I had. The best players, ten that I could name, all had the same ethic.