TOKYO — WALLABIES backrower Jack Dempsey has credited former World Cup-winning captain John Eales in helping him see the light at the end of the tunnel during the darkest period of his life.
It was a year ago that Dempsey, playing just his sixth Test, was man of the match in the Wallabies’ 23-18 drought-breaking win over the All Blacks in Brisbane.
One week later against the Barbarians in an unofficial Test in Sydney, the prodigious young talent suffered a devastating leg injury, ripping two hamstring tendons off the bone. That blow came just days before Michael Cheika’s men would depart on their Spring Tour.
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The initial prognosis suggested the 24-year-old would miss the next six months, with the Waratahs’ round seven clash against the Reds at the Sydney Cricket Ground pencilled in as a possible return date.
But those forecasts proved to be wide off the mark.
Jack Dempsey ripped two hamstring tendons off the bone.Source:Getty Images
Dempsey didn’t play a second of the Super Rugby competition, missed the Wallabies’ series’ against Ireland and the entire Rugby Championship campaign.
It was a bitter blow for a young man on the rise and ready to make his mark on the international game.
While Dempsey is now back fit, healthy and ready to take on the All Blacks, the steely look in his eyes wasn’t quite as unwavering as it usually was during his 11-month stint on the sidelines.
Dempsey revealed that a phone call out of the blue from Eales helped him focus and provide context to his enforced absence.
“When I read the voicemail that it was him (Eales) calling, I thought it was a bit of a joke, so I called him back and it was him,” Dempsey said.
“He called me back three or four times throughout the rehab process to check in on me.
“You mentioned that window when we (the Waratahs) were supposed to play the Reds — but didn’t make it — he called to check up and see what was going on, and obviously I was in a pretty dark space then, he helped me get through that.
Jack Dempsey returned for Sydney during the NRC.Source:Getty Images
“It’s a credit to him, staying in touch with the players and showing full confidence in the Wallabies and I owe a lot to him.
“He talked about his own experiences with injuries and the mindset about how you might feel forgotten, but we’re all hoping that you get back and you get strong.”
The National Rugby Championship offered Dempsey a path back to the Wallabies. After six matches for the Sydney Rays and a phone call with the Australian coach, his selection was sealed for the Spring Tour.
He will now likely battle it out against Pete Samu and uncapped Jed Holloway for a place on Cheika’s bench to face the All Blacks on Saturday in Yokohama. Ned Hanigan is likely to start in the back-row alongside captain Michael Hooper and David Pocock, fresh from being crowned Australia’s best player of the past year by taking home his second John Eales Medal last week.
“He (Cheika) called me the week before the last NRC and he just wanted to check in and see how I was,” Dempsey said.
Jack Dempsey taking on the All Blacks in 2017.Source:AFP
“He called me to see how my mindset was and I just expressed some personal concerns about not only my long term health but also my short term, and he obviously took that on board and agreed with that.
“He wanted me to come on this trip and I definitely wanted to take up the opportunity, if it was the best thing for me.
“We used the last couple of days in Sydney to get back on track, I got the green tick and we’re all good.
“Anyone that goes through long term injuries, that’s the one thing you can’t really prepare for, that roller coaster battle mentally.
“It’s much of a feeling of two steps forward, two steps back, a lot of the time.
“But eventually you do get over obstacles, you get better month to month rather than day to day and then you get to the point where you can see light at the end of the tunnel.
“Once you get there, then all of a sudden you start to pick up momentum.”
While Dempsey is back at home with the Wallabies, the back-rower isn’t here just to make up the numbers.
And it’s that kind of attitude that Cheika values so highly in Dempsey.
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“If there is one thing that I learnt last year, it’s that being a part of the squad is not good enough,” Dempsey said.
“When I had all those months and weeks to think back about where I left off, you want to make sure that they are positive and that you are winning Test matches, winning games.
“At the end of the day, my only interest is winning games and that’s something that when I came back in here I said to 'Cheik', that’s all I really want to do.
“I want to play rugby and do everything I can do to help the boys — whether I am playing or not — to get the victory this Saturday.”
And though the Bledisloe Cup is already lost to Australian rugby for a 16th straight year, Dempsey added that victory against the All Blacks was vital for the side’s progress ahead of next year’s World Cup in Japan.
“There’s a reason why the All Blacks moved the Test here and we all know why, so going to be a bit of prep for the World Cup,” said Dempsey, of New Zealand Rugby’s decision to take the game to Japan.
“But, we were also in this position last year where we lost the first two Bledisloe Cup games and we really showed up in the third game when a lot of people were calling it a dead rubber or whatever.
“If you can get in there and have a big crack at these guys, it can fill us with confidence going into next year at the very least.”
Originally published as ‘I thought it was a joke’: How Eales helped Wallaby escape from ‘dark space’
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