Who are these blokes? Get to know the Wallabies, then get behind them

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

“People don’t go to watch sport,” Nick Farr-Jones said to me once, “they go to watch people”.

His point – and yes, I have used that quote before – is that what actually pulls us into sporting theatre is knowing something of the background of who’s playing, ideally with enough material so that the lines the leading characters deliver have resonance, pull us into the whole narrative. The classic example I have previously cited is the 1991 Origin II match, when Mark Geyer spent an entire 80 minutes just a hair’s breadth away from being sent off for going after Wally Lewis relentlessly without ever quite getting there. It was all the more enthralling because we knew the characters of the male leads. Who was going to win the day?

And herein is something of the problem with what we hope will be the Wallabies’ renaissance.

Who are these blokes?

With so many losses in recent times, and consequently so many changes to the team – just four survivors in this year’s game against France from the team that played them last year – there has been a disconnect between the Australian rugby community and the Wallabies, let alone the wider sports community tuning in for this World Cup, many of whom have never heard of some players. Yes, of course, just about everyone knows Eddie Jones as a character – “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”, with a rugby history of success second to none in the coaching world – but what of the others?

I’m here to help!

For what it’s worth, here are some thumbnail bios of the lead characters of the forwards.

(Cue Ross Turnbull and his famous words on the morning of the third Test at Eden Park in 1978, to the forward pack – which included Greg Cornelsen, Buddha Handy and Garrick Fay. “Look,” Turnbull began, nodding dismissively to the door that the backs had just retreated behind, “these Phantom comic-swappers and Minties-eaters, these blond-headed flyweights are one thing, and we will need them after the hard work’s done. But the real stuff’s got to be done right here by you blokes.”)


Wallabies skipper Will Skelton.Credit: Getty

Will Skelton. The new captain is a softly spoken giant. Born in NZ. When he was still in his teens you’d get no change from 150 kilograms, but he has now slimmed down to a block of flats, a mere 140 kilograms. The idea of Eddie Jones in making him captain was to have someone who could bring the Wallabies together, a natural leader, and it seems to be working.

When I was chatting to former All Blacks coach Sir Steve Hansen at Wallabies training a fortnight ago – after he’d been brought in by Eddie to survey the team – he mentioned the importance of players knowing and liking each other as friends. And of course, he’s right. You’re not just 15 professionals brought together for a task, you are one, you are a unit, Shakespeare’s “band of brothers”. (Come on, you know it. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers …” ) Skelton, in person, feels like that, a natural rugby brother bringing the mob together, who also happens to be a human tractor, driving it up the middle. He’s been the most celebrated forward in the French rugby competition for the past three years, and they cannot get over his size, silky skills and sheer physicality, with one of my rugby mates here describing him as “un monstre glorieux”.

He’s a devoted family man, and I spent a little time with his wife, Katie, and infant child in the stands after the match against Georgia, and the fact she’s been a rugby player, too, for the past eight years, and a good one, means that – a la Mitchell Starc and his wife Alyssa Healy – their discussions after matches are learned, and likely instructive!

Taniela Tupou. He’s the man. We’ve had props before who were great scrummagers, and I remember it being whispered to me back in the day – jocularly, I think – that the Wallabies prop of 40 years ago, Declan Curran, used to so enjoy scrums he’d purposefully knock the ball on, just so he could have another one! We’ve had props who were great ball-players, and props who could cover a lot of ground. But with the possible exception of Tony D’Arcy, we’ve never had a prop who could do the lot like Tupou. Though he’s known as the “Tongan Thor”, I described him after his man of the match performance against Georgia as “a refrigerator on roller-skates,” and that is exactly what he looked like – but he combines it with the ability to break the line by stepping, floating magic passes and … displaying great honesty.

Taniela Tupou.Credit: Getty

Illustrative of his character is what happened in the first half against Georgia, when the Wallabies were leading 15-3. Near the Georgian line, Tupou scooped the ball up, and crashed over, though whether he successfully grounded it was unclear.

The English ref, Luke Pearce, was about to go upstairs to the TMO before noting Tupou’s lack of celebration: “You’ve lost it forward, have you?”

Tupou, without hesitation: “Yeah.”

Pearce: “So, no need to check? You haven’t scored the try?”

Tupou: “No”

Pearce: “Good honesty, thank you very much. No try.”

You get the drift. If Tupou was a cricketer, he’d be Adam Gilchrist: extraordinarily polyvalent skills, and if he snicked it, he’d walk immediately.

Tom Hooper.Credit: Getty

Tom Hooper. No successful Wallabies team is complete without a son of the soil in the side, nor a joker in the pack who can be counted on making the other blokes laugh up the back of the bus, nor a back-rower who gets through a workload that would kill a brown dog.

Hooper – no relation to the Wallabies captain of the last few years Michael – fulfils all three roles in one. I don’t know him personally, but he and his partner in crime in the back row, Fraser McReight, were outstanding against Georgia for their tackling, ball-work, support play and taking the ball up. Tom Decent wrote a major profile last week, which gave the flavour of the man.

“I loved growing up with my mates playing footy,” Hooper, 22, said of growing up on the land near Bathurst. “There were sausage sizzles on a Friday night. I was pumping four or five and my mates were only eating one. That’s probably why I’m a big block of meat now. Great way to grow up.”

Got it? Our kind of bloke.

Decent described him as “the larrikin of this rejuvenated Wallabies team in the mould of Nick Cummins a decade ago. There are Hooper-isms aplenty and yarns spun from his previous life on the farm.”

Precisely. And not a Phantom comic-swapper or Minties-eater among them.

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

Watch all the action from Rugby World Cup 2023 on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport. Every match streaming ad-free, live and in 4K UHD with replays, mini matches and highlights available on demand.

Sports news, results and expert commentary. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.

Most Viewed in Sport

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article