Wallaby Leadership Questions: Towards 2011! - Green and Gold Rugby

Wallaby Leadership Questions: Towards 2011!

Wallaby Leadership Questions: Towards 2011!

Aussie D asked the question, at the Green & Gold Rugby forum, as to who should be the Wallaby captain to take us to the 2011 Rugby World Cup.  It is a timely  question,  now just a little over 24 months until the big event, and a vital one.  If there is one thing that has typified all RWC Champions so far, it is strong leadership.  David Kirk (1987), Nick Farr-Jones (1991), Francois Pienaar (1995), John Eales (1999), Martin Johnson (2003) and John Smit (2007) were/are all very assured leaders and vital cogs to their teams’ success.

RWC Winners

Whilst I never want us to get to the stage whereby World Cup success takes priority over all other tests, we have reached a stage whereby Wallaby leadership must be questioned.  Our recent test failures have been characterised by rudderless play, devoid of any sense of purpose.  We can’t expect to win trophies with that form of rugby.

But what makes a good leader? Aussie D, in his post, proposes the following:

“1. Be an automatic selection; 2. Be an 80 minute performer; 3. Be world-class; 4. be durable (not injury prone); 5. be in a position to lead (close to the action, not stuck out wide).”

Looking at the above previous World Cup captains, most of Aussie D’s criteria are met. The most  interesting observation, perhaps, is that none of the World Cup winning captains had double figures on their back.  That is, Aussie D’s 5th rule, fits perfectly.  There are obviously examples of great rugby captains playing out wide, Andrew Slack and Trevor Allen (both Outside Centres) are two of our best. But it is hard deny the benefit of having a leader who is always close to the ball and, by necessity, the referee.

Let’s look a little more theoretically at what makes a good leader. For this I like to revert to some quotes on leadership I like.

Aussie D may like the words of Harold S. Geenan: “Leadership is practised not so much in words as in attitude and actions”. He’s right from a rugby perspective.  The captain has to be a real lead from the front person.  However, communication can be critical, but Geenan would suggest that is how he delivers these words and how he follows them up himself.

John C Maxwell has similar beliefs: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way”. We have these types of leaders in Australian rugby.  Both ‘current’ skippers, George Smith and Stirling Mortlock, are these types of captains.

However I also like this belief, from an unknown source: “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves”. This, I feel, is what Australian Rugby needs now.

Whilst Steve Waugh may not have had the on-field tactical nous of a Mark Taylor and had the benefit of being able to rely on Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, what he did do exceptionally is create self-belief in his players.  He can take a great deal of the credit for the successful careers of the likes of Matt Hayden, Justin Langer, Damian Martyn et al.  He instilled a real self-belief in themselves.  They knew they were good enough and knew that they could do anything on the cricket field.  As a result, they usually did!

At the moment our Wallaby team seems to be lacking, not only leadership, but self belief.  So who is our Steve Waugh? Who is the man who can turn this team around and have them back winning those tight games we used to, under the captaincy of John Eales?

Let’s break down the options, starting with the six most obvious. The test and state team incumbents.

Stirling Mortlock (injured Wallaby Captain):
Stirlo was anointed the man to lead taking over from our most capped skipper, George Gregan, in 2006.  Gregan remained in the side, however Mortlock was now the man to stand up.  It was a fair decision. Mortlock was a dominant backline presence and a popular member of the team.  At the time he was one of our definite world class players, and most people’s choice as the world’s best 13.  Three years on and age is beginning to show.  Mortlock’s consistency is waning and questions must be raised as to whether he will actually make it to 2013.  His position in the side can no longer be guaranteed, if through injury alone. For this, his rights to the captaincy must be called into question.

GeorgeGeorge Smith (current Wallaby Captain): Stepping into the role vacated by the injured Mortlock, Smith is definitely a lead from the front captain.  Ironically he stood down from the Brumbies captaincy this year to allow Stephen Hoiles a more dominant role.  Smith has always been reluctant captain and you can sense that on the field.  He seems unwilling to take the fight up to the referee or indeed his own players. Whilst he has been around longer than Mortlock, there is absolutely no signs of his form sliding and he is very likely to still be there in 2011.


KvJames Horwill (Reds Captain): Big Kev has a real claim to the title.  His one problem at the moment? Form.  Since fighting his way back from injury this year he rarely has shown, for the Reds or the Wallabies, the on-field performances that drew such acclaim last year.  Still, he has the Grand Slam tour and a full Super 14 season to make his case. Doesn’t seem to be the type of Steve Waugh type of leader however, but does anyone at the moment?

Phil Waugh (Waratah Captain):
Actually, Phil Waugh does kind of strike me as a bit of a Steve Waugh skipper, ironically. There is no doubt the Waratahs always play a hell of a lot better when he is playing. Whether that’s due to them fearing him or being inspired by him, Waugh’s leadership credentials can not be questioned.  And whilst some questioned his playing form this year, he was still one of the Tahs’ best. It is just a pity he plays the same position as George Smith. Or will Smith’s move to Number 8 be a more long term solution?

Nathan Sharpe (Force Captain):
From a player’s perspective, Sharpe is apparently an excellent captain.  All reports indicate that he is a very popular individual and his team mates enjoy playing along side him.  His contribution on the field is now being called into question more regularly, and his omission from the team to play the Springboks in Brisbane can only partly be put down to injury.  His ability to make it to 2011 must be called into question.


Stephen Hoiles (Brumbies Captain):
Now this is a long shot.  But should it be?  Hoiles is behind the 8-ball from the start because he’s not in the Wallaby squad.  But if there is a position we have struggled to fill this year, it is the Number 8 spot.  Wycliffe Palu has not been the dominant force he once was whilst Richard Brown is struggling to step up in his second year of test footy.  Hoiles plays a looser game than many 8-men, but his skill level is higher than Palu’s or Brown’s and his lineout work is first class.  As a captain, he rallied his team this year in tough times, following the death of Shawn Mackay. It’d be the longest of long odds, but when you consider it, why not?

Now let’s look at some other leaders within the squad with legitimate claims.

GitsMatt Giteau (Brumbies): The fourth Brumby (so far) on the list. It makes it hard to claim any real leadership proof when your not even skippering your provincial team.  The claims for Giteau seem to be based around the U10 approach of give it to the best player. He kicks the goals, he scores the tries, so just make him skipper.  However the added responsibility of playing fly half seems to have stifled Giteau’s impact, so one wonders whether he could handle the captaincy as well.

Rocky Elsom (Brumbies)
: Yes, another Brumby, but one with a some real claims.  Here’s a man who knows what he wants and usually gets it.  His dealings (managed by himself) with the ARU regarding his ‘sabbatical’ in Ireland, as well as his negotiations with the Reds and Brumbies, indicates he’s ready and willing to take things into his own hands and fight for what he believes in.  He has a real presence on the rugby field and, from his time in the Northern Hemisphere, has developed somewhat of an aura about him.  With Waugh, he seems the type of captain that team mates would want to play for and with.

MooeStephen Moore (Brumbies): Oh look, a Brumby! Moore has definite leadership potential.  His form over recent years has seen him proclaimed by many as the World’s best hooker, despite a slight slump of late. He also plays a game heavy on involvement and high on inspiration.  It will be difficult for him to stand out in this capacity at the Brumbies, given the number of leadership candidates, but the cream always rises and Moore will need to do as much if he has aspirations for higher honours.

BBBerrick Barnes (Re…Waratahs): That still hurts to write.  Anyone who has had any dealings with Barnes, whether it be in the flesh or through interviews in the media, has observed what an impressive individual he is.  He comes across as humble, genuine and committed.  He works hard at his game and has a genuine drive for success. These are all aspects that could make him a wonderful captain. Unfortunately his regular injuries curtail any real chance he has of assuming leadership positions. I predict he will have the captaincy arm band at stages for the Tahs next year, and if he can stay on the field he’s a real chance. If only he can stop himself from grimacing after every tackle, or skewed kick, or poor pass.

Benn Robinson (Waratahs):
Others have suggested Robinson purely on the basis of his sublime play and the fact he is one of the Wallabies’ few automatic selections.  Personally I want more from a captain.  Whilst I agree that Robinson is a world class, I haven’t seen any real leadership qualities as yet. He doesn’t seem to be an on-field communicator or organiser. So what’s wrong with just letting him focus on what he does best? Destroying opposition scrums.

David Pocock (Force): I put Pocock here purely because his leadership abilities are widely acclaimed. He is a wonderful player on the park and an inspiring individual off it.  He may one day skipper the Wallabies, and he will be an excellent one, but I can’t see it happening within the next couple of years. If we did want an open side to be skipper, I can think of two better candidates at the moment.

Ok, so they are the ones most likely.  But I want to throw in three left-field candidates.  Just to spur conversation.

Daniel Vickerman:
This one was proposed by Wayne Smith in his article in The Australian newspaper. It is an option I hadn’t considered but it is well worth doing.  Vickerman was a vital cog in the Wallaby (and Waratah) team not too long ago. His abilities in the lineout are well publicised, but his aggression at the ruck and maul is an aspect this Wallaby team is currently lacking in as well. There are many ‘ifs’ tied to this option, such as “if he comes back”, “if he shows form” and “if he wants to captain”, but I reckon its a very appealing alternative.

TPNTatafu Polota-Nau: Ok, so this one is even more left field than Vickerman, and it largely depends on his ability to prove his worth in the 2 jersey. However I think TPN is a potentially brilliant player. What he does on the field sometimes, his ferocity in the tackle and skill with the ball, are world class.  Obviously the lineout throwing must be improved but his is a highly intelligent and well respected player.  His presence on the field is considerable and, from what I have seen, the players would respond well to him.

Morgan Turinui:
Ok ok ok.  Hold your horses.  This is even more left field. In fact its probably out of the stadium, but it has real appeal to me, in a purely fanciful world.  The 13 jersey needs to be filled. I can’t see Mortlock doing it. And I can’t see Cross doing it.  Adam Ashley-Cooper is favoured, but who knows where else his utility value will be needed. Turinui is a leader.  He is an excellent communicator and reader of the game.  I get the feeling he would work exceptionally well with Robbie Deans and his coaching team.  I still maintain he is good enough, when fit and in form, to play for the Wallabies and if he can prove his worth then he’d be a certain captaincy candidate.

So there you go, plenty of options.  Of course few of us have any real idea who these guys are on the field, on the training paddock and in the team rooms. And in the end, that’s why the Wallaby coaching team will always be in a better position to ascertain leadership candidates then us lounge room experts.  But for the Wallabies to be any chance in 2011, we need each and everyone of the above players to stand up and be counted.  Because as the World Champions of 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007 showed, teams need strong leadership groups. And at the moment our Wallaby team does not seem to have that. Let’s hope that changes, sooner rather than later.

  • Who Needs Melon

    Great article Noddy. You’ve certainly covered all the options.

    I think we seem to be a bit short on succession planning in sport (if not elsewhere) in this country. Too often I think we cling to our old champions too long and then are decimated when they leave. One organisation that seems to have it together in this regard I think is the Brumbies.

    I think Mortlock was a good choice to step in when Gregan left but i think it’s 50/50 whether Mortlocks form and health will both be good come the World Cup.

    If Barnes can find a way to maintain his health (he should talk to Bernie) then I think he could be a great captain of the future. I’d like, assuming he’s fit, to see Barnes captain a few of the games in the UK at least.

  • Scarfman

    Hoiles? Turinui? Let’s have a closer look at Steve Waugh. He doesn’t actually play rugby but I think he’d be a terrific captain.

    It would be great to see Rocky lead some kind of team. Can we play a warm up against NSW Country or something and make Rocky capt to see how he goes?

  • Joe Blow

    Out of all of those there are 4 that command a starting spot and will continue to do so.
    Out of these Rocky has no experience as captain, Barnes does not ever seem to last the full 80, Mortlock is touch and go as to whether he will be first choice in 2011 and Smith is a reluctant captain.
    Rocky is a lead from the front type of player, is intelligent and reads the game very well. I would go with him and have Barnes as his deputy.

  • El Dommo

    Good Work Noddy.

    I think the coach however should have had a mention. Its as much a job for the coach to instill the belief and attitude every moment OTHER than the 80 minutes they are on the field. the coach adn captain can work together on this, but when it comes to LEADERS…when the wallabies were successful they also had a COACH who was very strong in his role……MacQueen rings a bell, and realistically is probably the last time the Wobblies had an extremely strong leader as coach (yes im saying Deans isnt as strong a leader…didnt say he was weak though)

    I just cant escape Sharpe.

    He is captain material. close to the action. Calls the lineouts, the chief element of possession (read your ARU coaching guides), and is along with matfield, O Connell, Williams and Chabal one of the locks discussed for World XV honours (probably Matfield and O connel for mine at the moment though)

    Hoiles – YES, maybe not to captain, but get him in the fkn team ffs…some runs on EOYT i hope. and then, maybe, captain material, the brown experiement is faltering a bit, and Operation Palu is just bombing…he is like a turtle at the moment (because of the hiding metaphor not the HARD shell metaphor)

    Id say not to Giteau, he has enough on his plate
    Id say no to Rocky, just because of his playing style, and probably because he doesnt look lik he wants it…he is more the Warrant Officer of the team, rather than the General if you knwo waht i mean

    Moore is a roughy, but, he isnt an 80 minute man becuase Deans ALWAYS replaces him. also, he just doenst feel like a cpatin, more a warrant officer (see above)

    Barnes is the other one and i agree, it would hurt to write. He would be a tremendous captain, or at least VC behind Sharpe.
    With Barnes (i hate to say it) but i get the flatley feeling (first because they play the same, second because of the injuries and head knocks). And it would be terrible to see antoher talent have to retire prematurely as a result of just being a tough, commited 2nd five-eighth, who gets hit in the head a lot.

    Vickerman would be an automatic selection should he choose to come back to the Wallabies. probably at the cost of hrwill. He and Sharpe comliment each others styles, his presence lets sharpe run a bit wider and do the stuff sharpe likes to do. Horwill and Sharpe are a bit similar, the like the pill at first receiver, and sometimes shirk the tight stuff as a reuslt of it.

  • Scotty

    Noddy, great article, but to suggest Morgs indicates you are somewhat of a lunatic.

    I’d would have the short list at Horwill, Vickerman and Elsom and decide if/when we find out the following:

    Horwill – is he ‘outgoing’ enough, can he stand up to the ref, can he help drag the Reds to at least a mid-table position next year (if he does this he will have a strong chance)?

    Vickerman – is he coming back, can he stand up in big games without losing his cool (note RWC QF)?

    Elsom – will he get some captaincy experience at the Brumbies, is he a little pig headed or too left field?

  • Jason

    Have noticed Rocky and Berrick sitting in on a lot of press conferences lately. Usually it’s just the captain and VC – being groomed?

    • Patrick

      Normally it is the captain, v-c and those who can speak coherent english, which explains why kiwis don’t do press conferences ;)

      • Jason

        Well played, sir.

      • Robson

        Yeah, their results speak for themselves so they don’t have to make so many excuses! I did giggle at this comment though.

  • Well covered article mate! you seem to have looked at all the angles. One or two are definately out the park, but I think the captaincy role will definately be up for grabs in the next year or two. Mortlock’s age is definately showing more and more, whilst Smith deinately plays a better game when he doesn’t have the added ressure of the captaincy on his shoulders.

  • spaceman

    i would go with morts if he is still there at 2011 but barnes as VC and rocky too.

    noone else fits the bill.
    i think rocky would need to be groomed a bit to be captain tho, he has no exp with that at all.

    • Kinghitz

      Don’t think having a captain out wide with his VC inside him would work particularly well.

  • kiwi007

    Absolutely brilliant article mate. The ozzies so far have a very young team that rely on experience and leadership like Mortlock/Barnes to guide the youngins.

    The ozzies only lost to nz by lack of leadership and experience in the last couple of minutes ie direction and drop kick.

    2011, under Deans and Mortlock, Barnes and co- the wallabies will be a completely different side than what we’re seeing now. Only a drop kick difference to the AB’s from winning and only a converted try against the bokkes is hardly anything to get worried about considering the lack of experience or leadership with key players missing because of injuries.

    • Robson

      Maaate were you watching these games on the radio.

      • Lance Free

        Robson – even though I was absolutely wrong last week with my game prediction I still have that same feeling in my water. You know, not only hope but the thought that there is potential there and it’s going to be ‘activated’ fairly soon….even tonight.

        The changes they’ve made are a positive, except maybe for Hynes’ replacement. I’d like to see Bam Bam and TPN come of age. Looking forward to the ride…..

        Wallabies by 6.

  • Henry

    What about Mitchell, even more left of field than Turinui?
    I think he captained Aus under 21’s with Rocky as Vc. a few years back?…

  • Cameron

    Good leaders need interests beyond rugby. Steve Waugh is a case in point. Can you consider any better leaders in recent Australian sport? But he’s more than just a great batsman, he is educated, he writes well, speaks well, and has interests beyond the sport, shown by his photography, his writing, his charity work in India, and willingness to take on ambassador type roles for both the sport and the organisation.

    David Kirk, Nick Farr Jones, also guys with interests beyond the game. Kirk is CEO of Fairfax now – leadership is obviously a transferrable skill!

    John Eales also comes across as a bloke who had interests beyond rugby. I think this is important because it gives you a stronger foundation to your character. And people look to character when they want a leader to inspire. Eales too was an articulate and well educated character, but he was solid and tough on field, skillful, and you could never question his passion for the jersey.

    The trouble is I don’t really see any candidates of that bunch. With professionalism, how many of the current Wallabies have any university qualifications at all?? How many have lives beyond professional football?? In years to come I think David Pocock will be the man, but that is a long way off. For now? If Berrick Barnes didn’t seem so injury prone, I would give him the 10 jersey and the captaincy right now.

    But I also think that if Giteau is willing to take it on, give him a go. It would be a big responsibility to add to him, but it might even make him play better.

  • happy hooker

    I agree with that point, outside interests and a breadth of knowledge are so important to leadership – that is one thing Turinui definately has, his knowledge of history is second to none and he is a very wide reader and fantastic speaker (in the Eales mould), but he needs to be a starter – and he aint.

    The leaders should be the one person that is reveered by his peers…. but who is that? Elsom could be it, but apparantly he is an unusual character??? On field he is unparalleled. I think Smith is the man atm and could develop well. Remember Eales early captaincy was criticised heavily and he was a reluctant leader – but he came good overtime, built a good relationship with the Coach and was a World XV player….

    Another question worth asking is along the World XV lines, I think it was Bob Dwyer that said you need a handful of world xv players to win a world cup – do we have that? I’d say in a year, yes.

    They were good tonight, and will get better – look out RWC 2011

  • Cameron

    elsom is the only one who would really be in the mix for a World XV.

    Giteau and Smith might be in the hunt but i think both would miss out.

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