It might be hard to imagine as you watch him charging ferociously around the field tonight but Wallabies captain Stephen Moore has a soft side. In fact he grew up on the stories of legendary children’s author Roald Dahl.
“As a child I’ve got vivid memories of reading Roald Dahl’s books” he explains. “I was only talking about this recently. I was reading to some kids at the National Library.”
“We had his books all around the house, so I’ve got very clear memories of reading those.”
When Moore was reading the stories at the Library no doubt one particular Dahl character popped up in his audience’s imagination – BFG, the title character of The Big Friendly Giant.
Moore may not be quite that gigantic, although he probably seemed like that to his young audience, but these days he has just about as much hair on his head.
The BFG’s special powers include superhuman hearing abilities and immense speed. Moore may not be known for his speed but his special powers include formidable scrummaging, accurate line out throwing and growing leadership skills that almost took the Wallabies to World Cup glory last October.
He also does a pretty good line in magically restoring belief.
Since Australia’s fairy-tale run to the World Cup final Wallabies fans all over the world are starting to re-connect with a team they had drifted away from.
“(Since the RWC) it’s been really humbling to speak to people all round the country” says Moore, “and a lot of people too who wouldn’t normally watch rugby tuned in for a few games and said they were really proud and enjoyed it.”
“That for us is what’s all about. If we can inspire someone or make them feel proud to be associated (with the Wallabies) or to be Australian, I think that’s a good thing.”
Indeed the inspirational story of the Wallabies coming back from the brink in 2015 could have been the stuff of a Dahl tale.
But for Moore and his team mates the job is not even half done. As coach Michael Cheika says the World Cup was great, “but at the end of the day we still lost.”
“It’s like the glass half empty or half full I suppose” echoes Moore. “You go over there to win the tournament, so from that perspective it is a failure because we didn’t win and the feeling after the final was a great disappointment. We certainly weren’t doing cartwheels in the sheds.
“But if you look at the broader tournament, and I only really noticed it when I got back to Australia, the impact that the team had on some of our supporters and some of our people, I think that was a success in that respect.”
The challenge begins again tonight as Moore’s side takes on a resurgent England team, fresh from Six Nation’s glory. The Brumbies hooker knows that Australia have to keep improving.
“The minute you stand still and stop looking for improvement teams are going to go past you” says Moore, “and teams like England that have made it clear they want to be the number one team in the world – that’s their goal and they’ve stated that very clearly.
“We need to continue to improve and evolve as a squad and the challenge is there now for the next crop of players, of the guys who are playing for the first time to make their mark and make their contribution to the Wallabies in 2016.”
As captain Moore has a crucial job in introducing those players to Test rugby.
“There’s been some guys performing really well in Super Rugby that will get their chance now to pull on the gold jersey” he explains, “and for them that’s going to be a great moment in their rugby careers. So for me as a player who’s been there for a longer time that’s really exciting and I guess rejuvenating to be part of the start of someone else’s journey as a team mate.”
With 102 tests to his name, the 32-year-old became one of just eight Wallabies centurions in the RWC quarter final win over Scotland. Now in his second stint as national captain his philosophy of leadership is simple.
“I feel like leadership is essentially about always trying to improve and learning from people around you and using those learnings to make a difference” he says, “and the more you can absorb, the more you can learn from other people that you think display the qualities and the habits of the trades that you aspire to, the better off you’re going to be.
“There’s some wonderful role models around. Not just sport but all sorts of different walks of life and I think it’s important to continue that learning experience to try and always become a bit better.”
A keen Liverpool FC fan Moore got a chance to meet the Reds when they were in Australia last year and he was deeply disappointed when they fell at the final hurdle in the recent Europa League final. He is desperate to avoid those feelings of disappointment tonight and is wary of the impact of new English boss, and former Brumbies coach, Eddie Jones.
“He’s given them a little bit of self-belief” says Moore of Jones impact. “He’s probably given them a bit more autonomy and a bit more flexibility. Eddie’s always very much been into the detail and knows everything about the rugby programme and what goes into the team performing on the weekend.
“Maybe they’ve relaxed a little bit. I don’t know it all, I’m just saying from what I’ve observed, so far there’s been some really good results for Eddie there.”
Moore also has tremendous respect for opposing captain and hooker Dylan Hartley.
“I’ve played against him a few times” he says, “I am looking forward to it. He’s a great competitor and being the captain as well that’s a good challenge.
“He’s a good player, he’s been a good player for a long time so I’ve got a lot of respect for him. As always against England the set-piece, and that contest, will be critical.
“If you look at England over the years the set-piece has always been a big part of their game so that will be no different. In these type of games that part of the game is always very important.
“You watch England’s games in the Six Nations and that was certainly the case. We know we’re going to have to be better and across the World Cup there was some things we didn’t do so well around the set-piece that we need to get better at so we’ve identified that and we’ve worked hard on that.”
Moore can’t wait to run out on to Suncorp Stadium tonight, where he will be returning next year to the place where his rugby career began with the Queensland Reds.
“It’s always been a special place for me,” explains Moore, “obviously spending a big part of my life in Brisbane, a lot of my mates, a lot of my family, people from my school, my club, will be in the crowd and that means a lot to me because Rugby’s been such an important part of my life and a very positive part of my life.
“To be able to represent those people whilst wearing the gold jersey means a lot and I’m really going to look forward to that experience and that opportunity.”
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