Geoffrey Lawrence Didier
‘He walks with a slight swagger, pivoting on narrow hips, arms dangling loose, waiting, tensed, poised like a gun-slinger; a lurking, brooding presence; standing back from the play, in his own space, electrically charged. Other players instinctively keep clear. Even when the play is some distance away, a lingering locus of potential action hovers over Didier like an aura - and the spectators sense it.’ Norman Abjorensen (1993)
Geoff ‘The Duke’ Didier was an uncompromising, durable and loyal front row forward whose commitment to rugby was finally rewarded with Wallaby selection after his 30th birthday.
A stalwart of both the Royals club in Canberra and the ACT representative team, Didier was both loved and hated, admired and feared. What he lacked in bulk and technique were more than compensated by his willingness and his work rate. One scribe famously wrote of Didier, ‘everything about him is competitive, even eye contact.’ A former opponent was quoted as saying, ‘The Duke doesn't have a temper so much as a reservoir of cold fury that is inexhaustible.’ Didier himself was quite forthright in his own view when he said, “the moment they [the crowds] stop baying for my blood is when I realise I’m not doing my job.”
Born in Victoria, Didier and his family moved to the nation’s capital when he was seven and although his father was a staunch Aussie Rule man young Geoff took to rugby with the Holy Trinity (Curtin) U9s. Self-described as a ‘fairly average player’, Didier went on to play at both Marist College and Phillip College however it was not until he made the ACT Schoolboys and then the NSW U18s side that he realised why he enjoyed rugby: “I liked the rough side of it, the tough tackling, the knocks and the general competitiveness. It was a very physical thing.”
Didier made his first-grade debut for Royals in the opening round of the 1978 season and a year later he celebrated the first of his eight grand final victories. 1980 brought him his first senior representative start, against Sydney, however a lack of bulk remained an ongoing concern. It was at this time Didier began weight training with John Hardy, a future Canberra Raider. The first off-season training in weights added some 10 kilos to Didier's frame, and the leg exercises also made him faster. He was transformed into that priceless rugby asset: a prop with mobility.
For the next 10 years Didier’s ACT jersey was rarely under threat and he started against almost every international touring side that ventured to the territory -- 1981 vs. France (L 7-50); 1981 vs. Italy (W 19-18); 1982 vs. Scotland (L 4-22); 1983 vs. Argentina (L 9-35); 1984 vs. New Zealand (L 16-40); 1985 vs. Fiji (W 34-23); 1987 vs. South Korea (W 58-15); 1988 vs. New Zealand (L 3-16); 1989 vs. Fiji (L 9-37) and vs. British Lions (L 25-41); 1990 vs. France (L 21-22); 1991 vs. Wales (L 3-7) and Western Samoa (W 31-15); & 1994 vs. Western Samoa (L 13-39). He also earned selection for the Emerging Wallabies against England in 1991 (L 3-36) and came off the bench when the Kookaburras went down to South Africa in 1993. In 1996, and out of retirement, Didier became Brumby #23 and he was in the side that crushed Wales 69-30 at Bruce Stadium.
Didier’s big break came in 1990, following a strong performance in the narrow loss to France, when he was named alongside Tony Daly, Ewen McKenzie and Matt Ryan as one of four props in the Australian squad to tour New Zealand. After many let-downs, Didier was over the moon with his selection: “At last. I’d all but given up hope.”
Coach Bob Dwyer threw Didier to the wolves with a debut selection for the second tour match, against Auckland, where he faced Steve McDowall, ‘the best loose-head in the world.’ Didier played a total of six matches on the tour however Daly and McKenzie started each of the Tests and Ryan was preferred as the reserve front rower. Although Australia lost in both Christchurch and Auckland their emerging promise was fulfilled when they ended the All Blacks’ 23-Test unbeaten run in Wellington, a victory which set the stage for their successful run to the 1991 Rugby World Cup.
Late in 1990 Didier toured to England and Europe with the Emerging Wallabies before he was picked in Australia’s 36-man World Cup squad. Unfortunately, Dan Crowley’s ability to play on both sides of the scrum ultimately saw the Queenslander secure both the contested fourth front row position and the first of his two World Cup winner medals. In 1992 Didier earned selection in Wallabies 41-man national training squad however by that time McKenzie was in the early stages of his Australian record run of 29 consecutive Tests at tight head while Daly / McKenzie were on their way to a national record 37 Tests as the prop forward pairing.
Didier continued to show for Royals through to the end of the 2001 season and finished with a remarkable 287 first-grade appearances over a 24-year career. He once said, "I want to go out on top, and be remembered that way. I will play it hard to the end, and if there's an epitaph written I would like it to be ‘hard but fair'."
Didier started six uncapped matches on the Wallaby tour of New Zealand – vs. Auckland (L 10-16); vs. West Coast-Buller (W 62-0); vs. Hanan Shield XV (W 34-0); vs. North Auckland (W 28-14); vs North Harbour (W 23-12); and vs. Bay of Plenty (L 4-12)