Michael Cheika’s new Wallabies need a new captain: Adam Coleman

Spiro Zavos Columnist

By Spiro Zavos, Spiro Zavos is a Roar Expert

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    Whether he jumped or was pushed, Stephen Moore has done the right thing for the Wallabies by stepping down from the captaincy immediately, and ending his splendid 12-year international career at the end of the 2017.

    It is not an easy thing to give up the honour and the extra income that comes with being the captain of the Wallabies. It is a measure of him as person and as a player dedicated to the cause of the Wallabies that, without drama or ego-massaging, he has stepped aside at the right time for the team and for himself.

    Moore deserves a last hurrah as a Wallaby in November. He has been one of the few players of his generation who has actually grown as a player and a leader throughout his career.

    The timing and details of his abdication will allow his steadying and dedicated influence to be available within the playing group and, most importantly, for the next captain.

    The sentiment in most of the rugby media is that this next captain should be Michael Hooper. I disagree.

    Michael Hooper Wallabies Australia Rugby Union 2017

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    In the Australian, the doyen Wayne Smith insists on a Hooper ascension: “At 25, he could well become the Wallabies’ next skipper for the next decade … It’s fair to say that Hooper would have learnt some harsh lessons from his early days as skipper but the critical thing is he absorbed them into his captaincy style and now he looks the complete leader …

    “Yet it should not be seen that Hooper will win the captaincy in any way by default. He is the standout candidate.”

    But on the same page of the Australian, Mark Ella disputes this analysis: “I must say I’m not a big fan of Hooper’s captaincy. His influence and general impact went missing for the Waratahs this season, who were a sham and should be embarrassed by the way they played given their playing list and resources.”

    I must say I agree with Ella in his assessment.

    I can’t see how Michael Hooper showed any real leadership qualities with the Waratahs. The players took no notice of his instructions not to give away stupid penalties under pressure. They failed to respond to his repeated urging to lift their game.

    Some of his own decisions, notably when to take the points with easy penalties or go for the try option were wrong.

    His own play as well has far too much of the individual Lone Ranger about it, rather than the ensemble player like most good number sevens.

    This Lone Ranger mode is a strength of his game, allowing him to explode in brilliant one-off runs, for instance. But it is also a weakness, as his whole game is much less effective throughout the 80 minutes of play than it is in a handful of moments.

    Ella has summed this dilemma about his play rather neatly: “Hooper is still young and exuberant and does the work of two players but he has to decide whether he wants to play in the forwards or in the backs.”

    In other words, he is a fine player but he is not a fine number seven.

    Even Wayne Smith agrees with this assessment, as he acknowledges in his article: “(Michael Hooper) now looks the complete leader. In every respect but one: he doesn’t have a lock on the number seven jersey. Or maybe he does under Cheika, but perhaps he shouldn’t have. He plays like a blindside flanker, but without the height to be a genuine lineout jumper, which pretty much comes with the job description of a Test number six.”

    I would say that this is a fair analysis.


    (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

    Next year, the two best youngish Australian number sevens, Liam Gill (particularly) and Sean McMahon, will be playing out of Australia and will not be eligible for Wallabies selection.

    With Hooper as captain, there will be no incentive from Michael Cheika, you would think, to get Gill or McMahon back playing in Australia and into the Wallabies squad.

    There is also the David Pocock aspect to be considered, as well.

    The Pooper combination does not make a lot of sense from a rugby perspective. Pocock is a traditional number seven; brilliant over the ball at a time when the laws of rugby are being adjusted to take this skill, with its high risk of head injuries, out of the game.

    Like Hooper, Pocock has poor aerial skills. Neither of these number sevens has the rangy lineout abilities that a number six or eight absolutely needs.

    The next Wallabies captain, I would argue, must be for the long haul.

    There are too many question marks over Hooper’s captaincy skills and (particularly) his play around the field for his long term endorsement as the successor to Moore.

    I now come to another matter regarding the Wallabies, after Moore, that deserve consideration.

    From now on, Michael Cheika is in the position to create his own Wallabies side, Cheika’s Wallabies, going into the 2019 Rugby World Cup tournament, rather than a cut-and-paste edition of the McKenzie/Cheika Wallabies we have had for the last couple of years.

    I think Cheika intends to create his own team, the real Cheika Wallabies. The sign for me that this is the new policy is dropping Quade Cooper from the train-on squad. And, the influx of young players into the squad.

    If this is the policy, then Cheika must be applauded for starting to implement it. It looks like he is going to use Reece Hodge, for instance, as the back-up number ten rather than Cooper. Number ten is the position that Hodge played in most of his club rugby stint.

    I would hope, too, that Cheika combines Rory Arnold and Adam Coleman in the second row, to give the Wallabies size, power and some monster grunt that has been lacking in the Wallabies essentially since John Eales retired in 2003.

    Adam Coleman wins a lineout for the Wallabies

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    It was noticeable, to me at least, that when Arnold was taken off at the 61st minute of the Brumbies-Hurricanes quarter-final that the home side began their slide to oblivion.

    Michael Cheika needs to be quite ruthless with the players who were involved in the 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign. If their play hasn’t kicked on, he needs to replace them. Or, in the case of Israel Folau, switch him to a position, the wing, where his inadequate positional play and his general inability to read play is not exposed as it is at fullback.

    The harsh fact is that being a losing Rugby World Cup finalist, as the Wallabies were in 2015, is generally the sign that the side, if it is kept together, is bound for subsequent failure.

    Here are the beaten finalists in all the Rugby World Cup tournaments: 1987: France, 1991: England, 1995: New Zealand, 1999: France, 2003: Australia, 2007: England, 2011: France, 2015: Australia.

    And here are the winning finalists in all the Rugby World Cup tournaments: 1987: New Zealand, 1991: Australia, 1995: South Africa, 1999: Australia, 2003: England, 2007: South Africa, 2011: New Zealand, 2015: New Zealand.

    The interesting thing about these two lists is that there is very little correlation between being a losing finalist and a subsequent World Cup triumph within the next couple of tournaments.

    France has played in three losing finals and has never won one.

    It took England three more tournaments before it converted their losing 1991 final in a finals victory in 2003.

    It also took New Zealand four more tournaments before converting their 1995 finals loss to a finals victory in 2011.

    South Africa has won two Rugby World Cups and has never played in a losing final.

    Australia lost the 2003 final and has not won one since.

    Stephen Moore Wallabies Australia Rugby Union Test Rugby Bledisloe Cup 2016

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    On the other hand, countries that have won a Rugby World Cup tournament, with the exception of England, have gone on to win another.

    Rugby writers have developed the idea of sides “peaking too early” for Rugby World Cup tournaments. I think we should be developing the “beaten finalist curse” as a more obvious and more accurate notion.

    A reason for the curse, I would suggest, is the mistaken belief that teams that get beaten in the final will somehow grow into being champions next time around.

    This mistaken belief tends to encourage coaches to keep the bulk of the losing team for the next tournament.

    The better plan is to rebuild the team with younger players, as the All Black coaches and selectors did in 2012 when they introduced nine new players and kept only the best of the veterans.

    Michael Cheika seems to be doing this very thing this year. Good.

    He needs to make one other dramatic change, I would argue. He needs to bring in a captain who was not part of the Rugby World Cup 2015 challenge.

    That captain should be Adam Coleman, the captain of the Western Force side that comprehensively defeated the Melbourne Rebels late in the 2017 Super Rugby season.

    Coleman is assured of his place in the Wallabies, unlike Hooper.

    He has presence on the field, something that Hooper, for all his zipping around and his high octane energy, does not have.

    Coleman, also, has a presence off the field, something the baby-faced Michael Hooper really doesn’t have.

    This presence, on and off the field, is possibly the most important attribute a rugby captain can have.

    I am reminded here of Ian McGeechan, coach of the 1997 British and Irish Lions, explaining why he picked Martin Johnson, a player without much captaincy experience, to lead the team through South Africa: “I wanted someone at the coin toss the Springboks could literally look up to.”

    Earlier this year, I suggested that Bernard Foley should be the Wallabies captain when Stephen Moore stood down. I feel now that the Wallabies would be best served with Foley being vice-captain and having the role of the on-field tactician, which the number ten does anyway, allowing Coleman to lead by example with his super aggressive play in the forwards.

    Wayne Smith in his article quoted earlier concedes that “as for a ‘Prince William’ selection (for Wallabies captain), there is only one possible contender lock Adam Coleman … But he has only captained the Western Force once, to a win over Melbourne Rebels, and it won’t hurt at all to allow him to spend some time working on his own game.”

    I can’t see why Coleman can’t develop as a player and as a captain at the same time.

    The importance of a forceful and tough-minded captain as the essential ingredient for a successful team has been spelt out in an interesting article in the Herald online written by Dylan Cleaver and headlined: “McCaw, Shelford reason for All Blacks dominance, claims new book.”

    The book is ‘The Captain Class: The Hidden force that creates the world’s greatest teams,’ written by the Wall Street Journal deputy-editor of enterprise Sam Walker.

    Walker identified the 16 greatest teams of all time, in his opinion. The All Blacks, in the Wayne Shelford era and the Richie McCaw era, were the only rugby team and the only team to make the list twice.

    All Blacks captain Richie McCaw

    (Photo: AFP)

    Dylan Cleaver makes this observation about Sam Walker’s research: “Expecting the common denominator between the Tier One teams to be the usual suspects of superstar players, enlightened coaching and administration, or financial muscle, Walker was shocked to learn this wasn’t always the case – in fact it usually wasn’t.”

    What Walker actually learnt was, as he explains in the book, this truth:

    “On a whim, I decided to make a list of the primary player-leaders of these 16 teams to see if any of their careers also served as bookends for their teams’ Tier One performances. The results of this exercise stopped me cold. (Every team’s dominant) performance corresponded in some way to the arrival and departure of one particular player. In fact, they all did. And with an eerie regularity that person was, or would eventually become, the captain.”

    As Cleaver points out, in the case of the two All Blacks teams the player/captains were Shelford and McCaw.

    Sam Walker identified seven traits that all 16 captains shared:

    • Extreme doggedness and focus in competition
    • Aggressive play that tests the limits of the rules
    • A willingness to do the thankless jobs in the shadows
    • A low-key, practical and democratic communication style
    • Motivates others with passionate non-verbal displays
    • Strong convictions and the courage to stand apart
    • Ironclad emotional control

    The only current Wallaby who goes close to sharing these traits is Adam Coleman.

    This leads me to the inevitable conclusion that the best decision from a coaching perspective Michael Cheika might make would be to appoint Coleman as the captain of the Wallabies going into the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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    The Crowd Says (239)

    • July 31st 2017 @ 7:52am
      Fionn said | July 31st 2017 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      You do change your opinions, Spiro. This isn’t a criticism so much as an observation, as it means you’re not wedded to ideological beliefs – as Keynes said ‘when the facts change, I change my mind’ – and for this you should be applauded. I do like your columns as I never know what I’ll read, as you’re so willing to adapt your beliefs and opinions to the information at hand. So thanks for that.

      But, a possible piece of advice, perhaps you should not state your opinions so emphatically to simply backflip – in the last year you’ve seen that Hoopet was the best 7 and guanteed Wallabies stop and Pocock was past it, that Quade Cooper was the only player of genius in the Wallabies capable of getting them scoring tries, and that Foley should be captain as he was the only indispensable player (despite a large segment of Australia’s rugby fans residing outside NSW, and a minority within NSW, thinking he shouldn’t even be in the 15).

      All that being said, I 100% agree Coleman should be captain, it seems a no-brainier. I’ve had a couple of people tell me that he and Cheika don’t get on, however. Perhaps Cheika clashes with players with very strong personalities perhaps?

      • Roar Guru

        August 1st 2017 @ 9:11am
        jeznez said | August 1st 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

        I’m all for Coleman as well. He is the guy I see talking to the pack in breaks in play and I also see the rest of the forwards listening to him.

        Should be VC/captain of the forwards at least.

        I may deny this in the future but have always preferred a team that is led by a back around the field and then has someone pigheaded and vocal bossing the pack.

        Was a fan of Cooper’s captaincy the few times I saw it – his leadership of the Reds vs the BIL was excellent.

        Not sure who in the backs can take that role.

        Isn’t Foley (a player that kicks for touch when he misses quite often and doesn’t have the longest boot in the team is betraying too much that should eliminated him from leadership roles).

        Genia is too hotheaded as a captain, blames his team when things don’t go well and won’t be there long term.

        Kerevi like Hooper looks to be a guy who has the role due to his playing quality rather than his leadership.

        We need guys who can think their way through a game to pair with Coleman. Think guys like Farr-Jones, Linagh, Horan, Knox, etc.

        Cooper was the only one I saw with a similar skill set, not as tough minded as I would like but Coleman brings that side. Not sure who our best game
        managers are coming through. I’m not advocating his elevation but Lance is possibly our best in that role.

        Lealiifano is probably the other if he gets back to top form.

        • August 1st 2017 @ 9:19am
          Fionn said | August 1st 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

          Jeznez, I think Lealiifano would be a brilliant choice if (when!) he finds his way back to top form.

          He’s an inspirational guy who has the respect not only of the other Aussie players, but the international players and officials as well.

    • July 31st 2017 @ 8:02am
      Fox Molder said | July 31st 2017 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      Agree. Hooper is not a Captains’s armpit nor up to Coleman’s.

      • July 31st 2017 @ 6:02pm
        Drongo said | July 31st 2017 @ 6:02pm | ! Report

        The way you express that opinion says a lot about you and absolutely nothing about Hooper. Your opinion is irrelevant anyway as you support NZ, not Australia.

        • July 31st 2017 @ 9:16pm
          Justin said | July 31st 2017 @ 9:16pm | ! Report

          Mate stop … We’ve done this Hooper thing and it doesn’t work. Stop asking Poe’ey to cover for this bloke and bring in a big country lad to bang a few kiwis about !! It’s time, we’ve had enough.

          • August 1st 2017 @ 10:12am
            Rebellion said | August 1st 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

            I’d like to see the following team be able to string a few matches together without being sacked after 1 (eg Highinbotham)

            I’ve left Hooper off the bench in favour of more grunt and lineout backup. He plays harder than most but unbalances the pack with his reluctance or inability to carry out his core roles. As good as little runs are I’d rather see a forward give more time and space to his backs so they can express themselves.

            1. Sio
            2. TPN
            3. Ala’alatoa
            4. Coleman
            5. Arnold
            6. McMahon
            7. Pocock
            8. Timani
            9. Powell
            10. Foley
            11. Naivalu
            12. Beale
            13. Kerevi
            14. Folau
            15. Haylet-Petty

            16. TBA (not Robertson)
            17. Moore (until a youngster steps up)
            18. Kepu
            19. Philip/Rodda
            20. Higginbotham
            21. Ruru/Lowrens
            22. Magnay/Meakes
            23. Koroibete/Magnay

            • August 1st 2017 @ 10:45am
              Charlie Turner said | August 1st 2017 @ 10:45am | ! Report

              Rebellion your 15 looks looks very suspect in defence through the backline. I would also argue your backrow while an improvement still looks unbalanced.

            • August 1st 2017 @ 1:12pm
              Mr Tommo said | August 1st 2017 @ 1:12pm | ! Report

              I like it; only changes i would make, Ainsley at reserve prop (good young prop, will only get better, especially if the force hang around, learning from Cowan, Faulkener, Daley and TPN).

              Latu at reserve hooker (assuming he can get his act together), Drop either Higgers (too old now) or McMahon (Japan bound) and replace with RHP (good back row balance, RHP is a solid ball runner and jumper)

            • August 1st 2017 @ 8:49pm
              ScottD said | August 1st 2017 @ 8:49pm | ! Report

              Swap RHP for McMahon and put McMahon or Higgers on the bench. I’d also put Jermaine Ainsley on bench as spare prop.
              Magnay a future WB but is still a couple if years away from delivering the consistency to be selected.
              Lowrens yes Ruru no (I’m not sure he is even eligible) with Powell on bench Lowrens starting.
              Not sure Naivalu is best 11 either.

              • August 1st 2017 @ 9:31pm
                ScottD said | August 1st 2017 @ 9:31pm | ! Report

                Probably Speight at 11

            • August 2nd 2017 @ 1:11pm
              Sammy Salsa said | August 2nd 2017 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

              Like the team Rebellion, however I would move DHP to 11, KB to 15 and have Hodge at 12. Have KB play the same role in broken play running off Foley, they already have a good combination and have Hodge for boot + support off mini breaks, string in contact. I don’t think that pure gas is really necessary from a test winger which is why I would move DHP to 11 for tactical kicking a decision making.

            • August 2nd 2017 @ 9:30pm
              scubasteve said | August 2nd 2017 @ 9:30pm | ! Report

              1. Sio
              2. TPN
              3. Ala’alatoa
              4. Coleman
              5. Arnold
              6. McMahon
              7. Pocock
              8. Timani
              9. Powell
              10. Foley
              11. Koroibete
              12. Hodge
              13. Kerevi
              14. Folau
              15. Beale

              16. TBA (not Robertson)
              17. Moore (until a youngster steps up)
              18. Kepu
              19. Philip/Rodda
              20. TBA (not higgers)
              21. Ruru/Lowrens
              22. Magnay/Meakes
              23. Naivalu/Magnay

              a couple of small tweaks. why are we not seeing more or Mack for 10? I thought he looked good in his first few games.

    • July 31st 2017 @ 8:09am
      Onside said | July 31st 2017 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      I dont mind Spiros emphaticness.That was then, now is now.

      To paraphrase Robbie Deans , ‘ write what’s in front of you’

    • July 31st 2017 @ 8:14am
      Jimbo81 said | July 31st 2017 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      Well said Spiro! Agree 100%

    • July 31st 2017 @ 8:33am
      Clifto said | July 31st 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      I think Coleman is a super exciting find, at last a Wallaby forward with some go forward and abrasiveness (read: opposite of Rob Simmons).

      Think he could well be captain material, though can’t agree he has “ironclad emotional control” Spiro. If anything he is a hot head.

      Would like to know how many of the great captains over the years served an apprenticeship as VC at the national level, and/or captained their club / state.

      • July 31st 2017 @ 11:34am
        Raa said | July 31st 2017 @ 11:34am | ! Report

        I agree I think Coleman is a great player and definitely could be a captain in the future but he does have a hot head which he would need to control as captain where as not being captain he can keep that hot head. He also has only captain once before really needs more experience.

        • Roar Rookie

          July 31st 2017 @ 11:45am
          piru said | July 31st 2017 @ 11:45am | ! Report

          I don’t think he’s as hot headed as he seems – I think a lot of the niggle and argy bargy is calculated to upset his opposite.

          Think Moore losing it during Reds v Force

          • July 31st 2017 @ 12:39pm
            Tenfour said | July 31st 2017 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

            He is definitely a hothead

            • Roar Rookie

              July 31st 2017 @ 12:46pm
              piru said | July 31st 2017 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

              Oh well if you say so

              • July 31st 2017 @ 2:15pm
                Tenfour said | July 31st 2017 @ 2:15pm | ! Report


          • Roar Guru

            July 31st 2017 @ 3:12pm
            Timbo (L) said | July 31st 2017 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

            Moore lost it after something Coleman said, and to this day remains a secret.
            I am not sure he is a hot head but he sure gets into his share of “disagreements”

            • Roar Rookie

              July 31st 2017 @ 6:07pm
              piru said | July 31st 2017 @ 6:07pm | ! Report

              I think he just doesn’t take a backward step, and he’s usually at the front.

              If anything kicks off, he’s in the middle of it.

              I did enjoy Dean Mumm wetting his pants after pushing Lance over and then coming face to face with Coleman

    • Roar Guru

      July 31st 2017 @ 8:34am
      Simon Levingston said | July 31st 2017 @ 8:34am | ! Report


      You could be correct in preferring Adam Coleman as the captain of the Wallabies. I am not a fan of Michael Hooper. I don’t like the way he plays. To me he lacks vision on the field to lead by example, for example, when was the last time any of has seen him offload when tackled?

      In selecting the captain of the Wallabies, why shouldn’t we do it differently “the Australian way”? I think the players should select their leader. This is the player who they think should lead them on the field. I also think this vote should be held often so the captain can change to the person they mutually respect the most. The coaches can have the casting votes.

      I think that’s the model we want for our national team.

      • July 31st 2017 @ 10:23am
        scrum said | July 31st 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        Sorry Simon-cannot agree. Leadership is not a popularity contest. All people are different. Sometimes the most popular choice may be the best leader, sometimes not at all. And voting regularly- there are hard calls to be made. Ask anybody in a leadership role- no matter what decision you make someone is upset. It is the coaching staff who have to assess leadership qualities and then form a good leadership group. We as the public only see the players on field & TV interviews, the coaches see the players reaction in the training environment & their relationship with other players.

        But of course we can have opinions as I do- for me leadership is a major issue for the Wallabies. The performance of the Waratahs would indicate Hooper has not been a good leader. However I do not see the daily dynamics of the teams so my assessment is based on limited information.

        • Roar Guru

          July 31st 2017 @ 3:21pm
          Timbo (L) said | July 31st 2017 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

          It is a popularity with Chieka contest though…
          I am trying to work out if ‘lil Kim Jong un or D. Trump is a better comparison to make.

          And yes, Leadership is more than just player respect.

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