By Peter Fitzsimons, Sydney Morning Herald
Will Michael Hooper make a good captain of the Wallabies?
We can only hope so, and with his appointment to the role this week to take over from long-time captain Stephen Moore, it is clearly the hope of Michael Cheika that the brilliant open-side flanker will be the foundation stone on which the Wallabies will win the 2019 World Cup.
(Oh, stop it! It IS possible!)
I don’t know Hooper well at all, despite having played a lot of football with his father, Michael – a big, bruising Englishman with shoulders of granite. But as the man who has penned biographies of our last two World Cup-winning captains in Nick Farr-Jones and John Eales, perhaps I can jot down some of the characteristics of captains that I know were instrumental in their own success?
- The first and most obvious feature is that both Eales and Farr-Jones were the best in their positions in the world, and over a long period of time at that. It meant their own selection was always beyond dispute and, as a matter of fact, the only time anyone ever tried to drop Farr-Jones – when Alan Jones tried to drop him in favour of Brian Smith in Argentina in 1987, maintaining, against the physio’s advice that FJ was too injured to play – the insanity of it proved to be one of the key factors in him losing the job.
- Both captains were gregarious. Farr-Jones, particularly, was dead-centre of the social action of the group, guaranteed to not only be the life of the party, but know where the party was. No captain ever had more willing “wing-men” than him, with an entire squadron of us lined up off his left and right shoulder as he moved through the streets on a Saturday night. Eales, too, though far more reserved by nature could still be in remarkably good form after a victorious Test. This characteristic of being the natural leader of a group of A-type personalities, I reckon was a key factor in their success on the field, as well. (And, just quietly, I wonder if Steve Smith has that in the Australian cricket team, where Warner seems to be the bloke who runs the show off the field?)
- Both Eales and Farr-Jones had a huge investment in their role as being ambassadors for Australian rugby. On their watch, no atrocities came to the surface and to my knowledge very few occurred. You will recall that deeply upsetting episode a couple of years ago, involving lewd texts being sent around about a female member of the Wallaby staff. Such an event would have been unthinkable in the time of both men, as whoever was guilty of it would have been taken aside and firmly, verbally pounded, to not so disgrace the Wallaby blazer by that kind of outrage.
- Both were great “readers” of the game strategically, Eales probably more than Farr-Jones. Broadly there are two kinds of rugby people. There are those like Bob Dwyer who could talk the leg off a chair, late into the night, going over tactics, techniques and all the rest. And there were those like me, who took no interest in such dullness and – while recognising that it really made a difference – couldn’t even begin to get interested in it. Eales took it all in however, was intellectually interested in it, could keep with Bob talking on it, and framed his captaincy accordingly. Farr-Jones was much more instinctive. He got what Bob was going on and on about, and wanted the rest of us to get it, too. But, personally, on the field his particular thing was speed of action – making a very quick decision, and reacting on the instant, before the opponents could set themselves. Blokes like me, who had no clue, at least knew that Nick knew, and if we lined up off his left or right shoulder – just like late on Saturday night – good things were bound to happen, and they usually did.
- In terms of their emotions on the field, Farr-Jones was always white-hot, Eales more detached. Kick-Too’s strength was that even late in a game when we were well behind and a rational voice was whispering to most of us that the game is likely lost, he would be scheming, ranting, raving, desperate to find a way to win, even when it was a basically irrational to think it possible. After a Test loss, he would grieve for weeks and, in the case of the 1989 Lions, three decades and counting. Eales was much cooler. When he was lining up the kick that would either win or lose the Bledisloe in Wellington in 2001, while all the rest of the world was going crazy around him, Eales was quietly repeating to himself the four-point mantra he always did before a kick – head down, three steps back, three steps to the right, slow, follow-through – and neither the crowd noise nor the enormity of the consequences of this kick, made any impact on either of them. From 45 metres out thus, into the wind, he slotted it perfectly, the Wallabies won and everyone went on to live happily ever after. Dem was da daze.
How does Hooper fit into the rough parameters provided above? I can’t call it. For me, David Pocock is probably a better fit, on what I do know, but as he is on his sabbatical year, Hooper gets first go, and I hope he nails it, starting with the Bledisloe in a fortnight.
Peter FitzSimons is managed by The Fordham Company.