Wallabies legend Eales helped Dempsey shake injury doubts

The Rugby Championship
by Sam Phillips

Regular phone calls from Wallabies legend John Eales played a prominent part in Jack Dempsey's recovery from a dire hamstring injury that put him on a mental "roller coaster".

Dempsey has joined the Wallabies squad in Tokyo for the first time this season after missing the entire Super Rugby season with two torn hamstring tendons and nerve damage suffered in the Wallabies-Barbarians clash in October last year.

An April 14 return against the Reds at the SCG was Dempsey's first target but it was only then the nerve damage was revealed.

The only way to heal the damage was time on the sideline and that's when things turned dark for the star flanker.

It was also one of the moments in which Eales reached out to the 24-year-old.

"Early on I had guys like John Eales, who found my number somehow and got in contact with me and shed some words of wisdom and gave me confidence in terms on working hard throughout this rehab to get back," Dempsey said.

"He talked about his own experiences with injuries and just the mindset about how you might feel forgotten, but we’re all hoping that you get back and you get strong.John Eales reached out to Jack Dempsey throughout the year. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan Hertel"You mentioned that window when we 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.

"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."

Eales' guidance, the support of friends and family and of course, the medical staff at both the Waratahs and Wallabies have carefully staggered Dempsey's return to rugby since the full extent of his injury was revealed.

The reasoning behind the extra care taken with his return was two fold.

Firstly and without question most importantly, the severity of Dempsey's could have had long term health implications if not treated properly.

But secondly, on field, Dempsey looks every bit the player the Wallabies have been missing this season.

His line bending, leg pumping carries are exactly what coach Michael Cheika needs alongside star pair David Pocock and Michael Hooper.

That is the reason he is on this tour when he could be in Sydney preparing for a full preseason.

While he may not be thrust into the furnace this weekend Dempsey declared himself ready to play should Cheika call his name.

"I wouldn't have got on the plane if I didn't think that I was ready," he said.

Dempsey's return has been a long time coming. Photo: Getty Images"With talking to Cheik we did put a game plan in place around what we want to do on this tour.

"That will come to light but there is still a lot of training to do and I have to prove myself again and get confidence and get the squads confidence that I can get back and play at this level.

"That's my first goal on this trip."

The next goal for Dempsey is simple.

He just wants to win.

After all, it is all he has known in Wallaby gold.

He has six caps to his name and is yet to taste defeat in those matches.

"If there is one thing that I learnt last year it's that being part of the squad is not good enough," he 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.Dempsey has made his way back through the NRC. Photo: Getty Images"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."

The odds of Dempsey keeping that perfect Test record are not in his favour should he line up against the All Blacks.

His man-of-the-match performance was a significant part of the formula the Wallabies deployed in the triumphant Brisbane Bledisloe and while he may have been watching from afar as the treasured trophy slipped away for another year his belief in this group is unwavering.

"It's been very hard to look from the outside in," Dempsey said.

"Always when I'm in the environment I block out the people who aren't in the environment because they don't really have any idea.

"I've been watching on TV and really having to bite my tongue at time.

"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."

The Wallabies face the All Blacks in Yokohama on Saturday afternoon, kicking off 3pm local, 5pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Channel Ten and RUGBY.com.au radio.