Phillip Nicholas Kearns
- 681 Wallaby Number
It is quite remarkable that two of Australia’s greatest players - Nick Farr-Jones and Phil Kearns - were not deemed good enough to play 1st XV rugby at Newington College. It is even more remarkable that Kearns was plucked from second grade at Randwick to play for Australia. While Tom Lawton had transformed the role of hooker to a virtual third, more mobile prop with speed, Kearns took it to another level as he incorporated size and mobility with the skills of a backrower, particularly in the loose. He was the complete package. From the Newington 2nd XV, Kearns joined Randwick and then played two years of Australian U21s, the second as captain.
In 1988 Kearns impressed for NSW ‘B’ against England however his real breakthrough came a year later with his performance for NSW when they were edged 21-23 by the touring British Lions. After Australia had lost the Lions series 1-2 the selectors decided a clean slate was required for the one-off Bledisloe Cup Test in Auckland. Lawton, who to that point had played 41 Tests, was sensationally dropped in favour of the 22-year old Kearns, who himself was ensconced in second grade club football behind future Wallaby coach Eddie Jones. From that debut Test Kearns completely dominated the hooking role.
He played 46 consecutive Tests through to the 1995 Rugby World Cup pool game against Canada. If he had not been rested for that international he would have gone on to play 50 in succession before injury saw him miss two full seasons. One of his more memorable moments came in 1990 during the away series against New Zealand where Kearns faced All Black great Sean Fitzpatrick. In the third Test at Wellington, and with the series already lost, Australia defied the conditions and the pundits to record a magnificent 21-9 victory. There was only one try that day and it was scored by Kearns.
From a lineout just a metre out from their own line Fitzpatrick’s throw was spilled by Gary Whetton at No.2. Kearns pounced on the loose ball, charged through both Graeme Bachop and Fitzpatrick to score and then offered his rival an unforgettable Churchillian two-fingered salute. During his tenure as a Wallaby Kearns played an integral part in some of Australia’s greatest ever successes. He went to three Rugby World Cups and was twice a World Champion.He won the Bledisloe Cup in 1992, ‘94 as captain and again in ‘98 and he was in the team that retained it in 1999. He also captained the Wallabies to their second ever series win over South Africa. Phil Kearns played 67 Tests for Australia, 10 as captain, in an 11-year international career.
Selected on the Australian U21s tour of New Zealand.
Captained the Australian U21s in their 19-24 loss to New Zealand U21s at Ballymore.
Kearns won his first Test cap as the starting hooker in the 12-24, one-off Bledisloe Cup Test loss to New Zealand in Auckland. He was also capped in both away Tests against France in Strasbourg and Lille. In the 1st Test of that series Kearns impressed as he picked up three tight heads against a very strong and hardened French pack. Kearns scored his first Test try in the 19-25, 2nd Test loss.
He started at No.2 and was partnered by Ewen McKenzie and Tony Daly in all seven Wallaby internationals. In the 67-9 defeat of the United States each member of the front row scored a try, the first such occurrence in the history of tier one Test rugby.
Kearns started all 10 Tests, nine in combination with McKenzie and Daly and one - against Western Samoa - with Dan Crowley and Cameron Lillicrap. He was selected to his first Rugby World Cup and returned home a World Champion.
He played every minute of all eight Tests. In the final match of the season, the 23-6 victory over Wales in Cardiff, Kearns became the 64th Wallaby to captain his country in a Test.
Kearns partnered McKenzie and Daly in all eight Tests and with Michael Lynagh out injured he captained the side against Tonga and also in the 2-1 series victory over South Africa.
He was capped in each of the six Tests and with Lynagh again injured he captained Australia in three matches including the 20-16 defeat of New Zealand in Sydney to reclaim the Bledisloe Cup.
Kearns played in seven Tests and was selected to his second Rugby World Cup. Following Lynagh’s retirement at the end of the tournament Kearns assumed the captaincy for the two Test Bledisloe Cup series.
1996 & 1997
He missed the international seasons for both years due to a combination of Achilles and knee injuries.
Kearns started 12 of the 13 internationals of the year as he was rested for the Rugby World Cup qualifier victory over Tonga in Canberra. Kearns won his 50th cap in the 76-0 rout of England at Ballymore.
Kearns earned two replacement caps in the opening five Tests but was recalled to the run-on XV for the back half of the Tri Nations. He was selected to his third Rugby World Cup and started in the first two pool games against Romania and Ireland however in the second of those matches he suffered extensive ligament damage to his foot and as a consequence retired at the end of the tournament.