The Wallabies enjoyed an unprecedented period of success in the late-1990s and early-2000s, while the Brumbies were Australia’s dominant Super Rugby franchise – and at the forefront of both teams’ success was a gangly fullback/five-eighth with an insane kitbag of skills.
A rising star for the Canberra-based Brumbies in the fledgling Super 12 competition, Larkham made his Test debut off the bench as a 22-year-old in 1996, and claimed the fullback spot during the Wallabies’ ’97 international schedule.
But Australia had struggled in the post-Michael Lynagh era, with the likes of Pat Howard, David Knox and midfield great Tim Horan failing to nail down the No.10 jumper. The emergence of brilliant fullbacks Matt Burke and Chris Latham allowed the Wallabies to shift Larkham to flyhalf – and the move proved a masterstroke.
A freakiShly elusive ball-runner with deceptive pace, Larkham’s instinctive genius transformed the Wallabies’ play, starring in three victories over the All Blacks in 1998. His daring, mesmerising sleight of hand was too much for most opposition defences to handle, and his level-headed influence was laced throughout Australia’s 1999 World Cup triumph.
Larkham’s 48-metre extra-time drop goal spurred the Wallabies to a semi-final triumph over South Africa and was arguably the defining moment of the tournament, while he played a leading hand a week later in a one-sided final defeat of France.
He was hampered by leg injuries for much of the remainder of his career, but Larkham’s match-winning class still regularly shone through.
Forming a magnificent srumbase partnership at international and Super Rugby level with George Gregan, Larkham was the linchpin for a Brumbies side that won titles in 2001 and ’04, and reached finals in 1997, 2000 and ’02 as they battled the Crusaders for supremacy.
LarkhAm featured opposite Jonny Wilkinson in Australia’s loss to England in the epic 2003 World Cup final, while his Test career extended until 2007, by which stage the 33-year-old had passed 100 appearances in the green and gold jumper.
Tall and lean, Larkham certainly bore no resemblance to the traditional superstar rugby athlete, but there are few players who lit up the domestic and international stages with electrifying brilliance more often than the Canberra-born playmaker.
Larkham, the Brumbies’ coach since 2014, stands as an iconic figure of a golden era in Australian rugby history.
STEPHEN LARKHAM – CAREER STATISTICS
Brumbies (1996-2007): 127 games (204 points)
Australia (1996-2007): 102 Tests – 25 tries, 2 conversions, 2 drop goals (135 points)