Perhaps the most under-rated fly-half of all time, Stephen Larkham ought to be right up there with Dan Carter and Jonny Wilkinson in conversations about the best-ever.
While the other two often played behind dominant packs, Larkham needed to utilise every cell of his brain to work out how to keep Australia on the front foot despite being behind a pack that was often second best, especially later in his career.
The other half of the Gregan-Larkham playmaker axis that steered Australia through their best years of the professional era and of the name that now adorns the Brumbies‘ grandstand, Larkham’s rugby intelligence is being put to full use as a coach.
Larkham was born in Canberra and raised on a merino wool farm just outside the city. Sporting prowess runs in the family: his cousins are both excellent tennis players – one of them coached Nick Kyrgios – while his dad played over 300 senior club games in Canberra. He studied engineering and IT in Canberra as well, while playing for the state reserve team, before rugby called and yanked him away from his studies.
After a chance appearance at outside centre – up until which the somewhat tall Larkham had been scrum-half – for the ACT reserve team, he was offered a contract by then-coach Rod Macqueen. He took it, and benefitted from a series of injuries to others to first move to full-back for the Brumbies, where he was better able to show off his running game, and then make a Test debut for the Wallabies in the same position. But Macqueen, spotting his game-reading ability, moved him to fly-half. Within six years he had steered the Brumbies to two Super Rugby titles. Altogether, he played for the Brumbies 127 times in 11 years, before finishing his career in Japan.
Macqueen transitioning Larkham to pivot meant that when the former was given the Wallabies job, he could take his project with him from the Brumbies. The decision was not met with universal acclaim because Larkham’s kicking game was deemed too weak, but his running and playmaking ability soon put the naysayers down and in 1998, Australia were on the rise.
Larkham’s most famous moment came in the 1999 Rugby World Cup semi-final against South Africa when he landed a 48m drop goal despite struggling both with a knee injury and poor eyesight – he later revealed he could barely see the posts.
He and George Gregan played 79 Tests together at half-back, a record number of Tests for a pairing, taking Australia both to the 1999 World Cup and to the final in 2003, as well as four Bledisloe Cups and two Tri-Nations triumphs in between. But by then, later in Larkham’s career, he was struggling more and more with injury. He was substituted in what turned out to be his final Test in the 2007 World Cup, having made 102 appearances for the Wallabies.
Married to Jacqueline, he also has two daughters, Jaimee and Tiahna. After a stint in Ireland coaching Munster, he is now head coach of the Brumbies. He is nicknamed ‘Bernie’ on account of his quiet persona and outside of rugby he is an avid fisherman.
Larkham is fiercely private and no information is available.
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