Connolly: when Wallabies skipper Moore was less

John Connolly Profile
by John Connolly

Murrayfield, the venue for Sunday morning’s Test between Australia and Scotland, is one of the special places in World rugby. 

On game day, it is a sea of navy blue and white as the bagpipes bellow from the stands, and even with all the noise of the passionate Scots, you can hear the trains rattle past on the train line at the southern end of the Stadium.

My one and only visit to Murrayfield as Wallabies Coach in 2006 is one that I’ll never forget, and it would become a turning point in the career of the current Australian captain, Stephen Moore.
Moore, who was 23 at the time, had played only a handful of Tests from the reserves bench after making his debut against Samoa the year before, but it was on this day that we decided to hand him his first Test start.

I remember it had been a shocking week weather-wise and we trained in torrential rain throughout most of our preparation. Although it was raining on game day, it was nothing like the conditions we had trained in during the week.

We’d come off a tough loss to Ireland at Lansdowne Road the week before and were looking for a strong start at the historic home of Scottish Rugby. 

What unfolded was exactly the opposite of what we’d hoped. Inside 10minutes of play, the Scots had pulled away to a 10-0 lead on the back of an intercept try and penalty goal, and there we were, lining up for our first lineout throw of the game.

"Stephen Moore, with the No.2 his back for the first time, throws his first ball into the lineout and it wobbles into the clutches of the Scotland lock. His second throw, a couple of minutes later, was just as shaky." - John Connolly  

“Get him off!”, came the screams from behind me in the coach’s box. At that point there was a lull in the crowd and you could hear the train screaming past the stadium. I remember thinking at the time, I wish I was on that train getting as far away from here as possible.

But we didn’t replace Stephen Moore. I wanted to see what he had. Going into that Test match we knew he had the talent, but there were questions about his temperament. So, we stuck with him, and for Stephen, the rest is history.

Ironically, after such a jittery start, Moore barged over for his first Test try late in the game to cap off a huge win after Stephen Larkham turned the game on its head and dominated the second half.
Time has proven that Moore is one of Australia’s rarest hookers.

Few players have played under four different Wallabies coaches and while I only remained in the job for another year after that Test at Edinburgh, Stephen has gone to play in 113 Tests and counting. He is one of our great hookers.

Ten years later, and Moore is playing in one of the strongest front row combinations we’ve seen in recent times. Once again, the men up front stood up against Wales in the victory last weekend.

Michael Cheika must feel like he is in a good space with his forward pack, which on any given day has proven it can match it with any other unit in the world. 

Young locks Rory Arnold and Adam Coleman are showing they could evolve into world class players and their form has allowed Cheika to get away with selecting non-jumping back rowers.

"Looking ahead, our hardest game on tour might not be England, but in fact, Ireland. It was a momentous occasion for Irish Rugby beating the All Blacks . . . and they are going to be a different beast compared with what the Wallabies will have faced." - John Connolly  

Last week in Cardiff it was clear that one team had been playing together for five months and the other had come together just a week before the Test. It was a disjointed Wales and the Wallabies looked slick and organised with the ball and put the game away in the first half. 

The win will give Cheika and his men a great deal of confidence and I’m expecting another comfortable win over Scotland early on Sunday morning.

Looking ahead, our hardest game on tour might not be England, but in fact, Ireland. It was a momentous occasion for Irish rugby beating the All Blacks for the first time in 111 years and they are going to be a different beast compared with what the Wallabies will have faced in their first three matches against Wales, Scotland and France.

This weekend gives Australia a chance to take another step forward.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.

All of the Wallabies’ Spring Tour Tests will be broadcast LIVE on beIn Sports and streamed LIVE on Foxtel Go (for Foxtel subscribers).