The changing face of Stephen Moore

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The first time Stephen Moore played a Test, he was praying for just one thing - no lineouts.

At 22, Moore came off the bench against Samoa, in what was a 74-7 victory for the Wallabies, though that didn’t ease his first outing anxiety.

“I remember when I was out there hoping the ball wouldn't go out to often so I wouldn't have to throw too many lineouts.

“You're so nervous that you're just dreading that responsibility at the time, it's pretty daunting.”

In a reflection of the time, Moore was ‘shown the ropes’ at former Wallaby prop Bill Young’s pub after, and a week later was a part of the Northern Territory Mosquitoes, playing alongside local amateur NT players and a handful of Wallabies.Moore's been part of the furniture in Wallabies camp. Photo: Getty ImagesThat fortnight is an image a far cry from the stoic, serious Test centurion, and captain, Moore became in 12 years of international rugby, navigating a rapidly changing sporting landscape.

In those early days, he and fellow rookies stuck together, in teams bound by certain pecking orders, with post-match celebrations at pubs the norm, an amateur thread still weaving through the rugby environment.

In some ways, from the outside, that structure seem to fit a man like Moore, with a relentless focus, all business most of the time.

“You didn't have a lot to do with the senior players and the younger players kept to themselves a little bit more and you earned your stripes,” he says.

Hierarchy isn’t a word thrown around as much in the current climate, and it’s a change to which Moore has had to adapt, he admits, even as late as the last three years of his career.Moore has passed the captaincy baton to Hooper without a hitch. Photo: Getty ImagesConviction is something his successor as captain Michael Hooper has praised of Moore, but rigidity is something he has had to do away with in a new age of sport.

“I am 34 and I am playing with blokes who are 20,” he says..

“That is a 14-year age gap but I can learn from them and how to interact with them and ultimately, as a leader in the group, get the best out of them.

“Midway through my career I thought things had to be done a certain way and everyone had to do the same, prepare the same.

“But I have learnt from Cheik (Wallabies coach Michael Cheika) that everyone can be different and not everybody is the same and doesn't respond to the same thing.

“I've learnt to enjoy seeing how team dynamics work and I know the other leaders feel the same.”

He knows a little bit about eccentric coaches, working under Eddie Jones, Cheika and John Connolly, whose methods in particular stick out to him.Different coaches with different styles have made Moore the player he is today. Photo: Getty Images"He'd walk in an elevator with you and he'd say something like: 'you're probably starting this week,' and then get out,” Moore recalls.

“I remember 'Sharpey' (former Wallabies captain Nathan Sharpe) telling me one time he rang everyone that wasn't selected in the squad and he called Sharpey and said, ‘I'm just calling everyone who hasn't been selected and I also just wanted to call you for a chat to see how you're going'.

“Just things like that - always playing mind games.”

All of those national coaches have stuck with him in certain ways - Jones’s discipline and Cheika’s man management book-ending Connolly’s unpredictability.

When he plays his final Test, against Scotland at Murrayfield, Moore will be far away from that nervous debutant, grateful to have represented Australia and comfortable to pass the baton.

“Playing for my country, very seriously, I am very proud of that and I like to talk to the boys about how it is a privilege to play for our country,” he says.“I've tried to be someone that can be relied upon to do the job by my teammates.

“I think there are some guys there that can form the nucleus of a great team.”

He very nearly left Australia after a bittersweet 2015 Rugby World Cup, on the verge of signing with Munster, and though he sees merit in overseas moves, the timing never felt right.

“I was very keen to do that, I was talking to Munster after the World Cup but it didn’t work out,” he says.

“Those sort of things don't fall into the sweet spot of when you should do it.”

Moore is well into preparing for life after rugby, looking to work part-time in his final year of rugby, looking for something that might resemble the void.

“I want to try and get stuck into something I enjoy because it is going to be very hard to replicate Test rugby and everything that goes with it emotionally and the buzz you get,” he says.

“I need to find something that is going to make me excited and motivated again.”

“(I‘m looking forward to) spending more time at home, having weekends.

“I may hate it, you never know. You might think 'I really miss it'.”

Australia takes on England on Saturday November 18, kicking off at 3pm local, Sunday 2am AEDT, LIVE on beIN Sports and SBS.