Where are they now? Richard Tombs
Photo: SPA Images
Having played 73 times for the Waratahs and earned five test caps for the Wallabies, all in the ultra combative midfield battleground, centre Richard Tombs had plenty of experience at putting his body on the line and rising to the challenge. But, even a lifetime of rugby couldn’t prepare him for perhaps his toughest assignment yet, taking on the infamous Kokoda Track last year.
Making the pilgrimage had been on Tombs’ bucket list for a while and – supported by the presence of long time friend and fellow ex-Waratah, Steve Talbot – it turned into an unforgettable experience.
“It was unreal,” admits the 46-year-old from his home in Collaroy on Sydney’s Northern beaches. “Physically, it’s not too much of an issue if you prepare for it, and we took 10 days to do it whereas you can do it in five if you really want that physical challenge, but we were over there more for the emotional and educational challenge and it ticked all those boxes, it was really rewarding.”
Now a manager of a medical supplies company – Avention Global – a career path he began some 20 years ago, Tombs’ pathway to the Waratahs actually began across the ditch. Born in Te Kuiti, he was only 15 months old when his family emigrated for a New South Wales country lifestyle that took in Gunnedah, Port Macquarie and Armidale. With a Kiwi father and three elder brothers, he got an old school education in the game where backyard footy was king and learning to look after yourself was a necessity.
“I guess being the youngest and smallest of four boys I had to stand up for myself from a pretty young age,” Tombs admits. “But that’s how you learn good technique because if you don’t, you end up getting busted pretty quickly! It was a hard way but a good way to learn footy.”
Playing league to begin with, he made the switch to rugby when he joined Armidale School at the age of 15 and never looked back. By the time he was 22, he had represented the Australian Schools side, the Aussie U21’s and had two years with the Reds before returning to New South Wales in 1990 to play for Northern Suburbs in the Shute Shield and to embark on his Waratahs career.
While donning the Wallaby jersey is something he naturally cherished, ask him to list the highlights of his career and one particular year with the Tahs jumps readily into focus.
“In 1991 we were undefeated, we had a fantastic year,” he recalls fondly. “We wiped Queensland twice, we wiped Auckland, we wiped England and France and we smashed Wales by 80 points, it was just an amazing year, the peak of my time at the Waratahs. And to cap it off, I was a member of the World Cup winning squad that same year.”
He got to play alongside some of the Australian game’s greats but a couple of unheralded names also stand out. “We had Nick Farr-Jones, David Campese and the World Cup winning front row of Kearns, McKenzie and Daley in that team. But I was playing at inside centre and had a little known bloke called Jim Allen playing at 10, who was 100 kilos, and outside me at 13 was Craig Wells, who was only 79 kilos but played like he was 100 kilos. That was a great midfield to play in, we came up against the great Michael Lynagh-Tim Horan-Jason Little combination for Queensland that year and in my opinion we dominated them.”
With three young daughters carrying on the netball gene from Tombs’ talented wife Carissa, who represented Australia for 12 years, there is plenty to occupy his weekends these days but he still manages to keep his eye in rugby wise as an assistant coach of Manly Marlins fourth grade alongside Talbot.
“It’s great to be a part of the Manly club, I really like being back amongst it again and playing an active role in something I really enjoy.”
Original version published in the NSW Waratahs v Bulls match program on March 1st, 2014