RWC Analysis - Captaincy: The art of seduction
All Blacks

RWC Analysis: The Art of Seduction

RWC Analysis: The Art of Seduction

With RWC 2015 finally here, it behoves us to assess two of the talking points. For Australia, the choice of Stephen Moore as captain, and for New Zealand, Richie’s last great hurrah. Talking points that are not unrelated.

For the Wallabies, the Australian public and probably Michael Cheika too, the choice for Australia came down to two – the incumbent, Michael Hooper, and last year’s first choice, Stephen Moore. Squeak obviously got the nod, but why, and was it the right choice? For the All Blacks, Richie’s record as a player speaks for itself (most capped ever, most wins, most starts), but his record as a captain is extraordinary. Admittedly, he has played for a team that of itself isn’t too shabby but recall that when he first appeared on the scene, the Kiwis were not as dominant as now, especially against Australia. In fact, in the clutch matches, they had been on the wrong side of the ledger, but since Richie became captain, that has changed. Is it a coincidence?

All Blacks' captain Richie McCaw and coach, Steve Hansen, share a quiet moment following the Kiwi's  defeat.

Picture the scene. It’s Saturday. You travel across town, dress up in your finest, and try and impress someone you have never met before. Despite rejection, disagreement and occasionally total confusion, you do your very best to continue to impress this person, despite being pushed to breathlessness and unable to speak at times, and all the while with your mates encouraging you, and often “helping” you, as mates do. You keep at it until you either succeed, or the other person walks away.

Sound familiar? All this before you head out on the tiles for a few lemonades. Why? Because you’re the captain. Every week, you rock up and get introduced to the referee. The lower down the grades and ages you go, the more chance you’ve never met this person before, and may not see them again. You have no choice in their selection, you know little about them, yet in the next short period of time, you have to be able to understand what they want, deliver it to them and yet all the while cunningly convincing them that what they want is actually what you want. It’s like a blind date – no matter how stupid, ugly, smelly or incapable they are – you’re stuck with them, and you have to make the most of it, not only for yourself but for your team.

Meanwhile, the referee has turned up, determined to run the game as they see fit. Two of the key criteria for a referee are “Change Behaviour”, and “Empathy”, which coincide nicely with what you are trying to do as captain. Except for the minor detail that whilst you are both trying to do the same thing, your goals are diametrically opposed, and you’re not the one with the whistle, so from the very start, there’s a power imbalance (remind you of anything?). Will you get a whistle of your own? Of course not, so you must resort to other, more devious means. Which leads us neatly back to Richie and Squeak.

Watching professional rugby on TV, especially in HD and with the multitude of cameras and the ability to pause and rewind, is a delight. However, despite having the match officials wired, the couch warmer misses most of the on-field dialogue between the officials and the players. If you can’t be on the field as the match official, you need to have your SportsEars in place and tuned to the referee’s frequency. Only then will you truly understand what happens at this level, and where Richie’s mastery truly stands out.

His ability to master the subtle art McCaw-Finalof referee seduction is evidenced by a number of things:

  • GAGR’s very own merchandising efforts “I’m not an alcoholic, I only drink when McCaw is offside”, born of the perception that Richie has a cloak of invisibility at the breakdown;
  • His win/loss record as captain;
  • His low level of yellow carding, despite being an open-side flanker; and
  • The most telling of all, his silence. He is very rarely heard on the referee’s microphone. He doesn’t raise his voice, he listens to the referee, he doesn’t argue and he is incredibly polite. On the rare occasion that he hears “Not now Richie”, he humbly acquiesces and walks away.

Contrast this with the recent Test between Australia and New Zealand in Sydney, refereed by Wayne Barnes. The match was getting a little lively, so Wayne decided to have a yarn to both captains – the “tidy it up or I will tidy it up for you” chat. At the time, more of the mess was coming from NZ, but Squeak couldn’t help himself, and he talked over Barnes FOUR times. Richie just stood and listened. Fortunately for Squeak Barnes is a cool character and let it go, but other referees may not. A perfect example of seduction – Squeak set himself back some minutes, whereas Richie, whose team was most at fault, walked away, nodding obediently, perceived as the good guy.


What’s the message from all this? It comes down to how to select a captain, and ideally, this should start early, in junior rugby. Yes, the player needs to make the team, and yes, they really should have the respect of their team-mates. But captaincy is not something to automatically give to your best player. If that was the case, Israel Folau would be Australia’s captain based on winning the past two John Eales Medals and being Australia’s first player picked in a World XV.

It means having a high level of emotional intelligence (EI, or EQ). In the fight for Australia’s captaincy, all else being equal, Squeak had the benefit of experience, and a better developed, although clearly still developing, EQ. Michael Hooper is still a young man, and whilst he has handled himself with aplomb in the circumstances, he is not yet obviously a seducer of referees. For those in the junior ranks, by all means experiment with your captaincy, but value it. Rotating it around the playing group, or giving it to your best player, is probably doing your team a disservice. Find someone with the EQ, and stick with them.

So to Squeak’s challenge. Although Cheika’s best option, if he continues the form shown with Wayne Barnes, Squeak will have many a lonely night. Let’s hope he’s been working on the dark arts, has done his homework on his upcoming dates, and ends up scoring big time at Halloween. If so, the Wallabies might just squeak home.

  • Who?

    Great article, and the perfect illustration of why Ben Mowen was selected as skipper for the Wallabies. Clearly not the best player out there, but definitely a ref whisperer.

    • Seb V

      He was a great Captain! If only he played like McCaw :(

      • Who?

        Excellent lineout technician, too.

    • Parker

      Ref whisperer. Gold.

    • Daws

      Wish Ben Mowen would return. He was a best captain over the last few years.

  • joeyjohns

    A captain should always be heard. Every second of every game.

    Whether it’s calling the hold, hold, lift for line speed
    When it’s a breakdown “off his feet sir” “Not supporting his own weight sir” ” “FROM THE SIDE sir” “NOT RELEASING”
    Pilferer’s always miss this beat; when you’re over the ball you should be yelling “RELEASE, RELEASE, RELEASE” – and if you’re able to yell it out 3 times before you get cleaned out the referee has no choice but to award a penalty.

    Yes, sometimes the referee gets pissed and tells you to shut it. But as you implied, you gotta play the referee.

    • Bob

      Come on. ‘Fess up, now. We all know that’s you, Rocky Elsom.

    • Who?

      Sort of agree… Agree with pilferers needing to shout ‘Release!’ But what you’re describing through the rest of it is a typical scrumhalf.

      • Xaviera

        The yappy style of scrum-half. NF-J was both an outstanding half and captain, but he most definitely wasn’t from the yappy mould. Aaron Smith is, and that makes it very hard for a coach to choose him as captain.

        • Who?

          I’ve come around to the position that the captain should be a forward. Especially someone like an openside. After all, they’re the one most likely to be infringing at the breakdown!
          And I agree that the constant yapping of most scrummies is what makes them impossible as captains. But makes them great prospects as club refs… Well, as long as you can get them to open the other eye!
          It’s also worth looking at the pattern of captains winning the RWC – 87 #9 – 91 #9 (NF-J) – 95 #6 – 99 #5 (Eales) – 03 #4 – 07 #2 – 11 #7. Only two of them were backs, both of the non-forwards were only half backs (yeah, bad joke), and they were the first two.

        • Xaviera

          From a game management point of view, it’s much easier for all if the captain is a forward. Ever tried asking a fullback for the option (scrum or a lineout?)? You need to send a smoke signal to the next suburb, then explain the difference between the two, then wait for the response. Personally, I prefer hookers, because they’re at the centre of it all, but I could be accused of being biased.

    • Seb V

      There is a fine line between annoying and having your voice heard. Once you annoy the Ref’s they aren’t going to award you a penalty just because your screaming at them – in fact they’d emotionally NOT want to award the penalty because your annoying the shit out of them.

    • Xaviera

      You DO have to play the referees and a lot of referees don’t like the running commentary – it is of no help to anyone. If it’s the captain doing it, even worse. I find it has the opposite effect – rather than developing empathy with the referee, it becomes white noise and turns the referee off. It’s nagging, and nagging is a low strike rate strategy.

  • PC Joy

    Australia’s weakness has been the scrum. A good scrum is always built around and controlled by the hooker, no matter what the big heads heads around him may claim. I think here’s a bit more to Moore’s captaincy than his admittedly important role of seducing the referee.

    • Seb V

      Scrum will be fine with Sio, Moore and Kepu (Moore probably the weakest link actually). I’m more worried about the line-out, it’s certainly no longer a strength of ours.

      • Graeme

        Our line out is still decent with Simmons playing. We are down to 3 jumpers with Pooper or Skelton playing, but this is passable.

    • Xaviera

      No doubt Squeak’s role is to fulfill the hooker’s role in all areas. However, as a captain, he has added responsibilities, and these are so important that they can change a match.

  • RobC

    Xaviera. Thanks for the post. btw, its just sooo nice to see a Wallaby Captain hold up a trophy

    I hope he’ll be LIFTING ANOTHER ONE in a couple of months time

    • Xaviera

      We’re all hoping Squeak gets RSI in the next little while.

  • McWarren

    I think Richie obviously is a brilliant captain and great player, and I hate him for that. I do think his job as captain is made a hell of a lot easier by being in the dominant team on most match days. I admire his ability to stay calm, quite and contrite at exactly the time he wants to belt the referee, I don’t know how he does it?
    Squeak is still a bit of an unknown to most international refs as a captain so maybe he doesn’t have the built up relationship capital on both sides of the emotional ledger. This may be enough to get us through the entire tournament.
    My biggest concern regarding interaction with the ref is with Phipps. Squeak and the team as a whole may pay the price of Phipps constant pissing off of the ref.

    • Xaviera

      If Phipps IS pissing off the ref, that is where a good leader can make a difference – they step in before the referee does, and take control. Even better, they step in, shut him down AND make sure the referee sees it. Refs SWOON over that sort of help.

    • Graeme

      Being in the refs ear constantly is not always a bad thing. Gregan made it almost an art-form. But I think in the case of Phipps the refs seem to ignore him for good and bad.

  • Tomikin

    If I remember correctly, Squeak got the better of him in that exchange..

    • Xaviera

      Better of Richie, or Barnes? Perhaps the former, but not the latter, as Barnes had to hose him down, which really illustrates my point – if you’re the captain and the referee is hosing you down, then you’ve failed in that part of your job, even if your point is 100% valid.

  • I have a theory that the AB’s get away with a lot in tight, forward action because the black outfits have the effect of blending and therefore confusing vision.
    Certainly does it in replays.
    Not an accident the ninja’s chose black!

All Blacks

The happiest of all. I've touched all levels, great ball skills, been known to blow hard. Been around the block once or twice

More in All Blacks