(6 June 1964)
Australia (9 Tests)
Brendan Nasser’s achievements in the game of Rugby Union and the way he was able to combine them with his off field professional career evokes memories of the sport’s gentlemanly origins. A “hard working” number eight or loose forward whose representative career lasted a comparatively short eight years, Nasser managed to accumulate a nearly complete list of honours as a Wallaby and Queensland representative. As a mobile and athletic loose forward equally adept on the side of the scrum or at number eight Nasser was renowned for his “damaging burst down the middle of the field”. He was also successful off-field. A dedicated dentist, Nasser studied at Oxford University where he earned a Full Blue and then parlayed this into a successful post-Rugby career.
Another product of Gregory Terrace’s Golden Age of Rugby between 1976 and 1981 Nasser played 8 matches for the First XV in his final year of school. Alongside his future Wallaby team mate Michael Lynagh, Nasser was a star of Terrace’s fifth premiership in as many years in 1981. Like his more famous class mate Nasser was also an accomplished all around athlete. During 1981 Nasser not only played First XV rugby but was also a member of Terrace’s First XI cricket side in 1981.
After leaving Terrace Nasser entered the University of Queensland as an undergraduate student and it was there that he also choose to play his senior club rugby. University and Queensland were entering a prolonged period of success. Under state coach Bob Templeton the Reds’ had evolved into one of the premier provincial teams in world rugby while the ‘students’ capitalised on the influx of talented young players to become a force in Brisbane rugby. Nasser’s strong play and mobility around the field for University marked him as a player of the future. Although he had to wait a number of years the young number eight or open side breakaway eventually made his provincial debut for the strong Queensland side in 1986 in the Reds’ 25-16 win over Auckland in the South Pacific Championship. To mark his arrival as a senior representative player, Nasser scored a try on debut.
Although his speed to the breakdown and his ball skills made Nasser a valuable addition to the Reds, he was overlooked for the Wallabies and was not considered for the 1987 World Cup of Rugby played in Australia and New Zealand. Determined to force his way into the Wallabies, Nasser was a stand out performer for Queensland during the 1988 season under legendary coach Bob Templeton. His play saw him mentioned as a possible new addition to an Australian squad for a northern hemisphere tour at the end of the year that was aiming to re-build after the failure of the 1987 World Cup campaign.
Despite the high regard he was held in, Nasser was not named in the 1987 Australian end of season tour; but by 1988 he had become a regular in the Reds. He was named in the Reds’ side that played New Zealand during their visit to Australia and his play again marked him as a stand out among a young crop of versatile back row forwards in Australian Rugby. However, the proven abilities of other, experienced loose forwards Simon Poidiven, Jeff Miller, and Steve Tuynam meant the next crop were will forced to push their claim for Wallaby selection through their performances in inter-provincial Rugby and the newly formed South Pacific Championship.
The following season was another triumphant one for Nasser and his various teams. Although they had proven themselves one of the best provincial sides in world rugby, Queensland has still not been able prove to their rivals from New South Wales that they were the number one province in Australia. Two matches in 1989 altered this. In the opening match of the two game 1989 interstate series Queensland defeated their archrivals 31-3 at Ballymore. To verify this was not an anomaly Nasser and his Queensland team mates again overcame the Waratahs in the return match 31-0 at the home of Rugby in Sydney Concord Oval in Sydney. To add to Nasser’s team success his University side won the 1989 Brisbane A-Grade Club Rugby championship in a torrid final against South. Unfortunately Nasser was sent from the field during the match and had to wait until the judiciary cleared him so he could join the Wallabies on their end of year tour of the Northern Hemisphere.
Cleared by the Brisbane disciplinary panel Nasser took his place in the squad and was rewarded with his test match debut cap against a rugged French side in the first test played on tour. His debut was a stellar affair. He took the filed with fellow first gamers Peter Fitzsimmons, who was finally making his Wallaby debut at the age of 28, Jason Little, and Rod McCall in a team that also featured three players in only their second test matches, Phil Kearns, Tony Daly, and Tim Horan. However, the new back row combination of Nasser, Tim Gavin, and David Carter were “outstanding” and the Wallabies recorded their highest score and biggest winning margin against the French in “one of the great Wallaby touring achievements” in the side’s history. Nasser’s performances in his first test saw him retain his place in an Australian team that lost the return test 25-19 to a reorganised French line up.
With the beginning of the 1990 representative Rugby season a third golden age of Queensland Rugby began. Following the appointment of former Brothers’ A-Grade coach John Connolly to the Reds’ top job the Reds won 11 of their twelve matches in 1990 including victories over international, test strength teams from Samoa, Fiji, and Italy. Nasser’s play was again outstanding. As a result of his performances for the all-conquering Reds the young loose forward was named in the Australian test side for Italy’s visit to begin the 1990 international test series. Nasser’s play was an important part in the Australian’s victory.
After his home, test debut against Italy showed the advantage of his skills at international level. Nasser’s mobility, vigour, aggression, and ball skills were seen as advantageous to an Australian pack that was considerably out-sized by the visiting French side who were next to arrive for a three test series. Taking full advantage of the advantages provided by a smaller pack, Australia won the first test 21-9. Although the sending off of French flanker Abdel Benazzi did not assist the visitors during the first test, the Australian’s were vastly superior all around the ground. They were to further prove it in the second test.
However, before this match Nasser played in an Australian Universities side that featured current Wallabies captain Nick Farr-Jones, and fellow or future Wallabies Jeff Miller, David Nucifora, Rob Egerton, and Damien Frawley; the French still won 26-19. Nasser was retained his spot on the side of the scrum for the second test of the series against France in what was to be his debut test match in Queensland at the famous Ballymore ground. With both teams prepared to throw the ball around a large Ballymore crowd saw the Wallabies triumph 48-31 in a match described by the press as “spectacular”. Nasser’s long time team mate Michael Lynagh set the record for individual points scored in a test match by a Wallaby with 24 in a victory described by ARU President Joe French as “the best match he had seen”. With the series secure the Australians could not sustain their high level of play and lost the third test despite the French having prop Phillipe Gallart sent off during the match.
Nasser’s toughness and mobility had provided a new dimension to the Wallaby pack and he found himself included in the Australian side to tour New Zealand. Before the team departed however, there was a one off test against the United States of America at Ballymore. It was in this test the Wallabies defeated the USA by a record score of 67-9 and Michael Lynagh equalled his own test point scoring record with 24 individual points.
With his selection for the Wallabies’ tour to New Zealand, Nasser would face some of his toughest tests in the game. As the reigning world champions and a rampant rugby nation tours to New Zealand were notoriously tough for visiting sides and after a series of defeats in the pre-tests matches the Wallabies were seen as less than formidable opponents for the All Blacks. Making matters worse for the Australians Nasser had to return home after breaking his cheekbone in the mid week match against Auckland. After the Wallabies lost the first test, Nasser returned to the tour and he was rushed into the Wallabies side for the second test at the expense of Steve Tuynman; his addition to the side did not help as Australia lost 27-17.
During the tour Nasser had begun to form a strong back row combination with fellow Queenslander Sam Scott-Young and as a result both players retained their spot in the team for the third test match. However, in what was perceived as a critical blow to the Wallabies, Nasser had to withdraw from the side on the eve of the match – a match in which the Wallabies recorded a famous victory. Returning to Queensland for the conclusion of the Brisbane Club season Nasser joined his University team mates to secure their second premiership in two years against a tough Brothers side that included fellow Terrace Old boy mark McBain. At the conclusion of the 1990 domestic season Nasser was part of a Queensland side that travelled to France to take part in the World Provincial Rugby Union championship. The Reds’ proved their standing as among the best of the world’s rugby provinces by advancing to the final of the competition where they lost to French side Toulouse in the final 21-10.
At the outset of the 1991 season the focus of players and national Unions alike around the Rugby world was on the second World Cup to be played in Great Britain and Ireland. To begin the 1991 international representative season the Reds defeated the visiting Welsh side 35-24 on the back of a “rampaging” first half. Queensland’s giant killing ways continued with a victory over England 20-14 with Nasser scoring a try in the first half to set the Reds on the path to yet another victory against an international touring side. Although Nasser had lost his place in the Wallabies run-on side to the new open-side breakaway ‘Willie’ Ofahengaue, selectors and Coach Bob Dwyer ensured Nasser stayed test ready by choosing him in a strong Australia B side. Although they lost to New Zealand ‘B’ the performances of the Wallabies second side sounded an ominous warning about Australia’s new found depth in the lead up to the 1991 World Cup.
Although he was no longer the side’s first choice open-side breakaway, Nasser’s form and versatility saw him included in the Wallabies World Cup squad. With the importance of continuity and honing the right combination for the finals, opportunities for the Wallabies reserves was limited. Nasser however was named in the Wallabies side for the qualifying match against Samoa in which the Australian’s were lucky to escape with a 9-3 victory on a wet and soggy playing field. Despite one more close game against Ireland in their quarter final, the Wallabies went on to secure victory in the final against England and become World Champions for the first time.
In what was to be his final year in international representative Rugby Union Nasser was a part of a number of history making events during the 1992 season. To celebrate the centenary of the game in New Zealand the NZRU invited a squad of the world’s best players to form a World XV to play the All Blacks in a three test series. Although he could not make the Wallabies run-on side Nasser was included the world squad. In what proved to an exciting and thrilling series the All-Star World squad pushed the New Zealanders all the way until the home side escaped with a 2-1 victory in the final test match. Following the completion of this history making clash Nasser returned to Queensland to play for the Reds. Their 1992 season was also a triumph. After coming close to securing the title on a number of previous occasions Queensland finally secured the South Pacific Championship after winning all of 5 their matches in the tournament culminating with victory of New South Wales. With the absence of a finals series Queensland took the title as the champion Provincial team in the Southern Hemisphere.
At the conclusion of the 1992 southern hemisphere season Nasser put his rugby career on hold to attend Oxford University to further his dentistry career. Despite this, top level rugby was not completely removed from his reach. His play in club and university Rugby in the United Kingdom was still of a high enough standard that when the touring Wallabies suffered a number of injuries Nasser was placed on standby and the joined the touring Wallabies to cover their mounting injury toll. Nasser then added another rare rugby achievement to his playing resume. During his time at Oxford he played in the annual match against Cambridge earning his Oxford ‘Blue’; but was unable to prevent his new University’s arch rival winning the traditional match 19-11 in a game featuring test and provincial level players from around the world.
Upon the completion of his studies at Oxford, Nasser returned to Australia and began a successful dentistry practice. In 1996 he found himself in England again and acted as the Oxford coach during the season; including its clash with Cambridge. Although he did not play for Queensland or Australia again, Nasser’s achievements in the game remained formidable; a World Cup and South Pacific Championship winner, along with his representative honours. However, it was Nasser’s ability to combine his playing and professional careers in the years just before the professionalisation of the game that reminds rugby followers of the necessity for top level rugby players to have once maintained a means of income from outside of the game.