Once were Wallaby
Coffs Coast Advocate sports reporter Brad Greenshields pulled on one and his verdict . . . 'Funny thing, it made me feel quite slim'.
BRAD GREENSHIELDS: All the representative honours. Playing for NSW Country, the Waratahs and then that one test match for the Wallabies. It was about 20 years ago now but how long ago does it seem for you?
DWAYNE VIGNES: It actually doesn't seem that long ago at all. It feels like it was yesterday, I wish I was still playing. I've still got that footy itch but I'm trying to keep away from it.
BG: How much do you miss your footy?
DV: Oh a great deal. It was my life for 25 to 30 years you know. To give it up, even though it took me a few years to give it up, it was very hard.
BG: Is it still a big part of your Saturday afternoon, going to the local footy?
DV: Not really, I don't go down there as much as I'd like to. With all the time that I've spent away, I'm trying to catch up with the family and of that sort of stuff.
BG: You played about 40 games for the Waratahs?
DV: Yeah it was about 30 or 40.
BG: When you were playing with the Waratahs, you were still living in Coffs Harbour and doing a heap of travelling weren't you?
DV: Yeah. Training would be on a Tuesday night so I'd have to leave here on a Tuesday, then train again Thursday down there and there was no use coming back so I'd stay down there. The game was on a Sunday, I'd be too late and would've missed the flight so I'd have to come back home on the Monday and then fly back down on a Tuesday again. That happened each week.
BG: How hard was that work wise?
DV: It was a family business that we had, so it was good. Remember in those days it was amateur so without that family backing there was no way that I'd be able to do it.
BG: At any stage did you think 'I'm going to have to move'? Were you ever tempted?
DV: I was tempted yeah. Just before we bought the family business here I was tempted to go to Brisbane but I just liked the area and wanted to stay here.
After I made that commitment to the business it was a case of stay here and that was it.
BG: Did they ever try and tempt you to move?
DV: Early on they probably did but once they knew that I was settled into the business here, they knew that I was going stay here always.
A couple of other times later on I got offered to go down to Sydney but it was just too late.
BG: Position wise you played mostly on the wing for the 'Tahs?
DV: Mostly on the wing for the 'Tahs yeah. Played a couple of games at fullback and outside centre but mainly on the wing.
BG: Do you miss that winger's body?
DV: (Laughs) Well every winger that I marked seemed to be 100 kilos and I was only 84, I think that was my playing weight so that was a challenge back then but I wish I had it now sure.
BG: What was your biggest strength as a player?
DV: I could probably read the game a bit better than a lot of them I suppose. I mean I certainly wasn't the quickest winger going around. We had 'Campo' on the other wing, he was certainly quick off the mark but that was probably my strength, I could read it a bit more.
BG: You had played for a couple of years with NSW and at that time Alan Jones was coach of the Wallabies. He came up here to make a speech and made a big call saying 'Dwayne Vignes is going to play for Australia' and it wasn't long after that that you actually were selected in the Wallaby squad?
DV: He came up here for a Small Business Association meeting and he saw me in the crowd and got me to stand up and said that the next day I would be selected to play against France.
Phil Hawthorne I remember was on our table and he was congratulating me and everybody was patting me on the back after it but the next day Brett Papworth got injured and he had to change all his plans.
He rang me and told me what was happening, he was good like that.
BG: How big a disappointment was that for you?
DV: Once he explained what was going on, it was a little bit of a disappointment but I was still happy that I was actually in the picture.
Once you got that sort of encouragement it sort of made you play a bit better later on.
BG: So how long after that speech by Alan Jones did that call-up to Wallabies squad actually come?
DV: A year.
BG: And then the phone call finally came?
DV: Yeah a year later. I was working in the shop. The team had already been picked for the Bledisloe Cup but Herbert pulled out at the last minute and I was a last minute replacement. Instead of going down on the Monday I went down on the Tuesday or something.
I remember Jimmy Culkin coming out here and us having a huge day on the drink and every pub we went to it seemed like there were more people in there congratulating me and people just showing up everywhere.
It was a great day, we started off at the Sawtell Pub and then we went into town, all the different places and ended up at the rugby club.
My wife actually walked in the door at the rugby club with my bags to go to Sydney the next day. I had to catch a flight that night.
BG: So you go down to Sydney and you're in camp. Was that a pinch yourself situation?
DV: Yeah it was but because I'd played with a lot of the NSW players they sort of welcomed me in and showed me a few of the ropes and that made it a lot easier. When you're playing with those sort of players week in, week out it makes it a lot easier when you get into camp.
Even the Queensland players I knew a couple of them, so it was easy to get along with everyone.
BG: In 1988, the Sydney Football Stadium had only just opened and there was no Telstra Stadium. Was the game played at the S.C.G?
DV: No it was at Concord Oval, the only test they played at Concord I think.
Bledisloe Cup, full crowd and I remember I was as scared as anything. Absolutely shitting myself.
BG: Did you sleep the night before?
DV: Yeah I did. I didn't have nerves that week leading up to it because I was a reserve.
Leading up to the game because I was a reserve I knew that I had to wait for my chance to get on if I was ever going to get on but then the day of the game it was 'Please don't get injured I don't want to go on the field'. That's exactly what happened.
BG: Where did the nerves come from? Was it the All Blacks doing the haka? At what point did it kick in?
DV: I think if I was in the actual test team then all week I would've been nervous leading up to the game.
As I knew I wasn't on the field, I knew I had a bit of time up my sleeve that I could just relax and enjoy the week and learn as much as I could.
Then on the day, people were sort of coming up to me saying 'You might get on, you might get on' and then that sort of made me think. And then 'No good, no good at all'.
BG: So the full-time whistle blew and you didn't get on the field?
DV: There were a couple of times when Matt Burke got hurt or injured or some bloody thing and Alan Jones would tell me to stand up and get warm and I'm just praying that Burke would be alright.
After the game I didn't get on so I was pretty happy in the end but then I was disappointed that I didn't get on.
BG: So what happened after that?
DV: After that we have what we call a Kangaroo session where we all go into the one room and we sing a song, players sing the national anthem and we have a Kangaroo court which is sculling beers basically.
Players in their first test and people that have been in the squad for the first time, those sort of ones have to get up and shotgun a beer.
That was alright, I did mine and a couple of them had to do two but then after that we had a big function with the All Blacks.
BG: So there was just that one test experience for you. After that were you a player on the fringe for a while who just couldn't selected?
DV: Six weeks after the Bledisloe Cup they picked the tour to go to Argentina and I was in the squad of 21 and they picked 28 to go to Argentina and I missed out and it was never explained to me why or anything.
I think that has been eating me because it wasn't explained why. I saw Alan Jones a couple of years ago and he said it was because they presumed I was injured so it there was just a lack of communication there but I don't hold any grudges.
BG: Do you look at rugby now and think 'Gee I wish I was born 20 years later'?
DV: I don't know whether I'd be able to keep up with the blokes today and certainly my playing weight wouldn't be enough to play now.
You think of different things that the players can do and what you learned when you were growing up and that sort of stuff but I don't hold any grudges that they're getting money and I didn't.
BG: We'll finish off talking about players who don't get money and that's the local footy on a Saturday afternoon. Coffs Rugby have dominated for what seems like forever and a day. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What are your thoughts on local rugby?
DV: I think local rugby is pretty good. The standard isn't any good but it's not up to Coffs Harbour to go out there and recruit players for the other clubs. They're the ones that have to lift up their standard.
It will come back together. Coffs have got their time at the moment but the others are coming through. Dorrigo was quite strong last year and Hastings have been a strong club for a few years. It all just revolves I think.
BG: Righto, we better get on with drinking these beers.
BG: Cheers mate.
DV: Yeah you too.