Why opportunity is knocking on door number two

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

By Nicholas Bishop, Nicholas Bishop is a Roar Expert

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    For the first time in over twelve years, there is a vacancy in the middle of the Australian front row.

    Veteran starter and former Wallaby captain Stephen Moore has finally waved goodbye and disappeared over the horizon, with a remarkable haul of 129 Test caps streaming in his wake. Moore has been one of the finest adverts for Australian rugby, both on and off the field, since he began playing for the Wallabies back in 2005.

    Meanwhile, his replacement, 85-cap Tatafu Polota-Nau, has moved to the Leicester Tigers in the UK in the twilight of his playing career. Polota-Nau’s services were apparently not required by any of the remaining Super Rugby franchises after the Western Force were wound up.

    Although he still aspires to continue playing until 2019, and will be eligible under the current rules for World Cup selection, there must now be considerable doubt whether ‘Taf’ will ever get there.

    “I guess you’ve got to take it year by year, because the body’s not agreeing with me,” he commented ruefully.

    Both Moore and Polota-Nau began their Test careers back in the same year (2005) and between them have locked up the Wallaby hooking spot for as long as anyone can remember.

    The only other Australian hookers with any significant Test experience – James ‘Chibba’ Hanson and Saia Fainga’a – have also emigrated to the English Premiership (to Gloucester and London Irish respectively), so all of a sudden the cupboard is bare.

    Stephen Moore

    (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

    Historically, Australia’s golden periods of success on the rugby field have tended to coincide with the selection of big, physically dominant hookers.

    The first was Tom Lawton junior, back in 1984. The junior qualification is important, because Tom’s grandfather was an outstanding Wallaby of a previous era.

    Tom senior excelled at a whole spectrum of sports, ranging from rowing to tennis, at Brisbane Grammar School from 1913-1917. He caught the tail end of World War I as an artillery gunner in France in 1918, before earning a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University and representing the varsity at five different sports.

    He was a Wallaby for twelve years from 1920-1932 and enjoyed the distinction of captaining the only Wallaby team to have inflicted a series whitewash on the touring All Blacks, by 3-0 back in 1929. Tom senior was inducted into the Australian Rugby Union Hall of Fame in 2007.

    He also came back to live with the family in his final years. As Lawton recalls,

    “For about three years until he passed away, he’d tell great stories about the ‘adventure’ of rugby. Not so much the game, but the camaraderie and the places he saw and the people he met. He painted a great picture of the culture of the game.”

    Although Tom junior came from playing nowhere, catapulting from the Souths ‘Magpies’ first XV into Alan Jones’ Wallaby Grand Slam-winning side of 1984, he did not suddenly appear from a cultural outback. Rugby’s spirit was already in the family, and it was in the family at the highest level.

    Lawton was a massive 5’11, 118-kilo block of power who dwarfed his props, ‘Topo’ Rodriguez and Andrew MacIntyre. But with the benefit of the technical input from Rodriguez and scrum guru Phil Keith-Roach, and an impromptu coaching session from Ireland’s Phil Orr in the Lansdowne club lounge – “we ended up packing scrums in the bar… Phil showed us tips in terms of binding and the like, it was incredibly valuable” – the Wallaby scrum achieved the unthinkable, pushing the Wales pack back over its own line in front of its own people:

    When Bob Dwyer replaced Alan Jones as coach of the national side in 1988, he made it clear that Tom Lawton’s services were no longer required. In his search for the new Australian rake, he hit upon a reserve grader at the Randwick club, Phil Kearns.

    Kearns was backing up the first team hooker at the time, one Eddie Jones. Kearns had Test-match size and physicality and his rival didn’t – Kearns was 110 kilos, Jones only weighed 80. Along with unknown loose-head prop Tony Daly, he was projected straight into a series against the All Blacks and Sean Fitzpatrick.

    ‘Fitzy’ duly gave it to Kearns with both barrels: ”What are you doing here? You’re a reserve grader, go home to Mummy!”

    But at a lineout close the New Zealand goal-line, a Fitzpatrick throw went astray and Kearns reacted first, falling on the ball to score. Kearns reinforced his point by giving Fitzy the two-fingered salute – or respectfully requesting “two sausages at tonight’s barbecue, please”, as he said afterwards:

    Australia won the game in Wellington by 21 points to 9, and Kearns went on to participate in three successive World Cups, becoming a dual World Cup winner in 1991 and 1999.

    Big hookers with a broad skill set have become marquee players in the modern game. They have to be as big as a prop and just as proficient in the scrums, and they have to be able to throw in at the lineout. Frequently they are expected to be big defenders over the tackle ball (like Malcolm Marx, Bismarck du Plessis and Agustin Creevy), effective ball-carriers (Marx and Creevy), and in New Zealand attacking patterns, good passers and off-loaders, able to play with the backs in the wide channels (Dane Coles).

    Agustin Creevy of the Argentina Pumas

    (AP Photo/SNPA, Ross Setford)

    So who is ‘the next big thing’ in Australian rugby? On the limited evidence available during the 2017 Rugby Championship, it just may be the Rebels’ Jordan Uelese.

    Uelese is big – at 122 kilos, bigger than Lawton, bigger than Kearns, bigger than Moore and Polota-Nau, and bigger than many props in international rugby. Like Lawton and Kearns, in 2017 he ‘sprang from nowhere’ in professional terms to play the rough equivalent of a half of rugby off the bench in the Rugby Championship. With no worthwhile Super Rugby experience under his belt, he transitioned straight from the Australian under-20s to the full national team.

    What we can say with certainty is that he has the physical and athletic tools for the job.

    Let’s take a look at Jordan Uelese in the scrums:

    South Africa, with two of their strongest scrummagers, Steven Kitshoff and Marx, in the front rank, are attacking with their favourite manoeuvre, shifting their tighthead (Trevor Nyakane) inside while Marx and Kitshoff slide out on to and around Australian number three Allan Alaalatoa.

    One of the keys to resisting this kind of pressure is for the defending hooker to be able to neutralise the tighthead who is moving across the gap on to him. In this instance, Uelese is holding the Wallaby front row together by successfully opposing Nyakane. The scrum wavers, then consolidates, and that is down to Uelese’s strength.

    Of the two set-pieces, it appears that the lineout may present more of an issue in Uelese’s development:

    This was Uelese’s first throw in international rugby, so allowances for the pressure have to be made! However, there are some technical issues which will need to be addressed by the Wallaby coaches. The ball is thrown out of the palm and the fingers do not remain in contact with the ball for as long as possible at the end. There is no relaxed long finish to the delivery and the arms are pulled down immediately, resulting in a ‘hook’ instead of a ‘draw’ or a straight hit.

    There is little doubt on the other hand that Uelese will be a huge asset on both sides of the breakdown:

    In the first instance, Uelese has to drop in behind Michael Hooper from a restart to clean out opponents who have all the momentum in contact – big units like Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth among them. Although the cards are stacked in the Springboks’ favour, Uelese is able to stand firm, resist the pressure and present a solid ball for his scrum-half.

    In the second, he cleans out Agustin Creevy one-on-one with minimal fuss, at a moment when Creevy has decent position over the tackle ball on the ground. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Creevy looks properly stung by the force of the impact!

    In the same game, Uelese also flashed a glimpse of his ability on the other side of the tackle ball:

    According to my own stats, all of Uelese’s eight carries against South Africa and Argentina were positive, resulting in go-forward yardage. This one against the Pumas penetrated the crease between two forward tacklers and set up an easy exit for the Wallabies:

    Periods of Wallaby success in the international game have often coincided with the presence of an outstanding (and more often than not outstandingly large) hooker pinning the tight five together.

    At the elite level of the modern game, there are very few hookers who can get away with a playing weight below 108 kilos – even a footballer as good as Dane Coles was required to bulk up by New Zealand scrum guru Mike Cron to deliver the right amount of impact at the set-piece.

    The bigger, the better – and they do not come much bigger than the Rebels’ Jordan Uelese. Uelese will have a shot at a breakout season in 2018, following in the footsteps of Tom Lawton and Phil Kearns and shooting from club/provincial level to Test rugby like a bolt from the blue.

    The Reds’ Andrew Ready and the Waratahs’ Tolu Latu will have something to say about that, as indeed may Tatafu Polota-Nau if he can persuade his body to endure the rigours of top-flight rugby for one more year. It is a scenario full of historical portent, even if the landscape has changed.

    Nicholas Bishop
    Nicholas Bishop

    Nick Bishop has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2003), Mike Ruddock (2004-2005) and most recently Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for or won national sports book awards. Nick's latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union, entitled The Iron Curtain. He is currently writing articles for The Roar and The Rugby Site, and working as a strategy consultant to Stuart Lancaster and the Leinster coaching staff for their European matches.

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    The Crowd Says (232)

    • January 17th 2018 @ 4:32am
      GALATZO said | January 17th 2018 @ 4:32am | ! Report

      Hello again, Nicholas. In the last couple of seasons Marx showed the way for bigger and better ball running hookers and your clips of Uelese demonstrate that “if they’ve got one, we want one, too.” But we still need a dynamo to replace Sio.
      Re that Kearns game against Wales, your halfback scored a try close to the end. What was his name? He was a sometime fighter who had a good pass and a better right hook.

      Off subject but well worth a mention is the Scarlets’ first half at Bath. What a great performance. I particularly liked the shot of Eddie Jones, rugged up and gnome-like, sitting in the stands. You could almost see a thought bubble above his head – “Bloody hell, Wales are gonna be a handful this year.”

      • Columnist

        January 17th 2018 @ 4:42am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 4:42am | ! Report

        Hi G – not sure I agree Scott Sio needs replacing. I think he’s a tidy player.

        You wouldn’t be referring to my name-sake, David Bishop, would you? no relation 😀

        I’ve a mind to use the Bath-Scarlets game as the basis for another article in the near future – the Welsh region’s performance was that good. It would be appreciated in NZ – particularly as Tman could give all the credit to Wayne Pivac!! 🙂

        • January 17th 2018 @ 6:25pm
          ClarkeG said | January 17th 2018 @ 6:25pm | ! Report

          It is appreciated in NZ.

          For anyone that might be interested here is an interview with Pivac on this mornings Radio Sport NZ.

          • Columnist

            January 17th 2018 @ 6:37pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 6:37pm | ! Report

            Ahh thanks Clarke – the coach who preceded Graham Henry at Auckland a long long time ago!

            • Roar Guru

              January 17th 2018 @ 6:48pm
              The Neutral View From Sweden said | January 17th 2018 @ 6:48pm | ! Report

              And guess what, it seems that T-man and Pivac are in perfect agreement.

              Here is an article in NZH that is based on that radio interview:

              Table topping Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac has warned the gap is closing between New Zealand and European rugby.

              The former Auckland and North Harbour coach says the influx of Super Rugby players and New Zealand coaches is fuelling a rise in European standards.

              Pivac — who has just signed a two year contract extension with the Llanelli club — told Radio Sport’s Martin Devlin that South Africa’s battles in the Pro 14 competition were a rough indication of where world standards were at.

              Scarlets have a massive game against Toulon this weekend, having claimed top spot in pool five of the European Champions Cup after a big win over English club Bath.

              Scarlets won the Pro 12 last year, before the competition morphed into the Pro 14 when the Cheetahs and Kings — the South African Super Rugby rejects — joined the cross-border competition.

              “The South African teams have won one game in the UK out of 25,” said Pivac.

              “The Cheetahs win at home at altitude, but the Kings haven’t won a game all season.

              “You can’t judge it too much from that. But there are so many ex All Blacks and Super Rugby players from Australia and South Africa.

              “There are a lot of New Zealand coaches who bring the New Zealand traditions, techniques and tactics with them. There are New Zealand coaches scattered throughout the three (professional) competitions.”

              Pivac — who has been linked to the Welsh coaching job when Warren Gatland retires after the 2019 World Cup — said it was difficult to make a complete judgement when there was no contact between provincial sides from Europe and New Zealand.

              “But I think it is a strong level of rugby here,” he said.

              “We saw what a lot of these players did with the Lions in New Zealand, they weren’t a walkover.

              “In the November autumn series, the All Blacks had a couple of really good games against Scotland and even Wales for most of the game. I think the gap has closed a little bit, which is great for rugby.

              “It’s quality rugby – the northern hemisphere rugby is improving and it is going to be very interesting later in the year when the All Blacks come back up.”

              Pivac described Llanelli as a “community club” with a small budget by European standards. Yet it was still a big money operation which included a heated main field and indoor/outdoor training venues.

              “Llanelli is about the size of Whangarei and (the club) has a few hundred sponsors rather than a few big ones,” he said.

              “They’re fanatical…people stop you in the supermarket and tell you who should be playing, who shouldn’t, what you are doing wrong and right.

              “The big difference is the length of time you have with the team. There is one team in three competitions so you are together for 11 months of the year which is quite a grind.

              “My budget is in excess of five million pounds, with a squad of 50 players, and 25 management. It’s serious stuff.”


              • Columnist

                January 17th 2018 @ 6:58pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 6:58pm | ! Report

                Thanks for that NV. Yes, and ironically Wayne Pivac has brought the Llanelli club back to type of rugby it always played best – countering from deep off turnovers and kicks. In a way we’re back to a modern version of the Carwyn James era, when Llanelli and London Welsh were the two big Welsh sides playing that style of football!

                My Welsh side is happy that we are progressing our rugby athletes out of the obsession with size, physicality and physical conditioning.

              • January 18th 2018 @ 12:20am
                FunBus said | January 18th 2018 @ 12:20am | ! Report

                You also have to factor in NVFS, that a number of high profile NZ coaches are not exactly ripping up trees. Pivac and Schmidt can claim to be on a high, but I can’t think of many others across Europe. Gatland had the Lions drawn series, but he really needs a good 6 Nations or the Taffs will be after his blood.
                The most disastrous results in the European Cup last week were Bath, Glasgow, Montpelier and Leicester. Putting aside that Leicester played a second team all the others are coached by Kiwis with a stellar reputation. They’re not one-offs either. Glasgow (David Rennie) seem to have gone backwards since Townsend left. Bath (Todd Blackadder) have been very up and down, and Montpelier (Cotter), although top of their league probably benefitted from being virtually all foreigners so being able to play their strongest side during the November internationals. They’re not having a good time in Europe.
                The Scots might start to question soon whether their love affair with NZ coaches is sensible. Cotter got Scotland better organised, but Townsend has clearly taken them to a level Cotter wasn’t capable of, and Rennie seems to be taking Glasgow backwards from where Townsend left them.
                The picture’s more mixed than the Pivac quote suggests.

              • January 18th 2018 @ 6:37am
                Taylorman said | January 18th 2018 @ 6:37am | ! Report

                Yeah… na.
                Pivac as I was, is talking about trends, where you are expecting Rennie to jump hoops in his first year in a completely foreign scene, culture, player levels… as an example to lessen his comments? Rennie will be fine, whether Glasgow are up to it is a different matter.

                Helooo FB, is anyone in there?

                Plus, how many NH coaches have won RCs?

              • January 18th 2018 @ 10:55am
                ClarkeG said | January 18th 2018 @ 10:55am | ! Report

                Lam is ripping up shrubs in the RFU Championship. 🙂

              • January 18th 2018 @ 2:48pm
                Taylorman said | January 18th 2018 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

                Yes I was wondering why Lam was missing in that critique, the Blues second home is it?

              • January 18th 2018 @ 7:28pm
                ClarkeG said | January 18th 2018 @ 7:28pm | ! Report

                Yep…Piutau will be there soon as well.

              • Columnist

                January 18th 2018 @ 7:48pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 18th 2018 @ 7:48pm | ! Report

                Jack Lam, often overlooked (wrongly) in lists of best global sevens in the game!…

              • January 19th 2018 @ 9:29am
                ClarkeG said | January 19th 2018 @ 9:29am | ! Report

                Yes Nicholas, Jack Lam a good Hurricanes man, cousin of coach Pat.

        • January 17th 2018 @ 9:01pm
          Rebellion said | January 17th 2018 @ 9:01pm | ! Report

          Fantastic Article Nick
          Best one of the year so far. I really hope Uelese has a breakout season as he’s a Melbourne bred rugby player (despite spending the first half of his life in NZ) and after a tough 2017 on the field they deserve a feel good story.

          • Columnist

            January 17th 2018 @ 9:05pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 9:05pm | ! Report

            I agree with that sentiment Rebs, let’s hope for great things from Australian SR this year.

    • January 17th 2018 @ 4:56am
      GALATZO said | January 17th 2018 @ 4:56am | ! Report

      You’re right, it was David Bishop. Re Sio, is tidy good enough for Tokyo? Looking at the props currently playing for the ABs, England, Wales, Ireland, the Boks, we’re gonna need a powerful front row, too. And yes, leading up to the 6N, an article on the strength of Welsh players would be much appreciated as the comp this year is going to be fiercely contested.

      • Columnist

        January 17th 2018 @ 5:07am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 5:07am | ! Report

        That may not be the thrust of the article I was considering G – but I’m sure a 6N preview will figure somewhere along the way…

        • January 17th 2018 @ 8:10am
          Fionn said | January 17th 2018 @ 8:10am | ! Report

          I’ve never been sure why Sio is so maligned. He didn’t play well in 2016 and was injured in early 2017, but by the time the internationals rolled around he was playing well. In fact, our front row was consistently the best of the Wallabies’.

          • Roar Guru

            January 17th 2018 @ 9:32am
            PeterK said | January 17th 2018 @ 9:32am | ! Report

            agree though Sio still needs to work on over extending himself, he has more techical issues than Kepu, Alaalatoa or Slipper. However they can be remedied since he has the obvious core strength.

            • Columnist

              January 17th 2018 @ 10:07am
              Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:07am | ! Report

              …if they switch AAA back to loose-head in the expectation of Tupou coming through this season Peter…

              • January 17th 2018 @ 10:20am
                Fionn said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:20am | ! Report

                The Brumbies won’t switch AAA back to LHP, Nick.

              • January 17th 2018 @ 12:12pm
                jameswm said | January 17th 2018 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

                Or switch Tupou to LH. He’s a bit smaller height wise. I’ve always wondered if would work there. He and Sio LH (Slipper backup and some others coming through like Ainsley), and Kepu and AA TH. We need another to come through – shame about Lomax.

              • January 17th 2018 @ 12:16pm
                MitchO said | January 17th 2018 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

                Why not switch Tupou over to loosehead? He’s young enough to learn.

                Leave AAA, Kepu, Ainsley, Faulkner etc to fight it out for tighthead.

                Like the say, the Brumbies will not put both AAA and Sio on the loosehead side. They can’t afford to job share their two test quality props.

              • January 17th 2018 @ 2:07pm
                jameswm said | January 17th 2018 @ 2:07pm | ! Report

                Mitch I think those 2 are good mates too – same age, went to local rival schools (Newington and Trinity).

                Is Ainsley a TH?

                At hooker – I guess after Taf and Uelese there’s Latu, Ready and coming through Mafi, Colby Fainga’a and some others, plus the young Kiwi hooker the Tahs signed.

              • January 17th 2018 @ 2:54pm
                MitchO said | January 17th 2018 @ 2:54pm | ! Report

                Yes James. Ainsley is a tight head.

                At the Force, he was the starting tighthead with Faulkner coming on later in the game.

                Faulkner went to Melbourne but then unfortunately for him the ARU killed the Force so Ainsley has now gone to Melbourne and the guys that selected Ainsley over Faulkner (Wessells and Joe Barakat) I believe have gone to Melbourne too.

            • Columnist

              January 17th 2018 @ 5:45pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 5:45pm | ! Report

              Fionn (below)

              Remember also that the WB coaching staff first switched AAA to TH without him having had any prior Super Rugby experience in the position (and Tom Robertson over the other way!) – they could just as easily swap him back again…

              • January 17th 2018 @ 5:52pm
                Fionn said | January 17th 2018 @ 5:52pm | ! Report

                Nick, the Wallabies may, but the Brumbies will not do so, and so the Wallabies would have to accept that he would get very little practice in that position unless they could somehow convince the Brumbies to swap him.

          • Columnist

            January 17th 2018 @ 10:06am
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

            He’s also been doing well against Dan Cole, who was his bete noir on the 2016 tour, Fionn. Unless someone else comes through strongly, the spot is his to lose. James Slipper will be an interesting watch after his rehab.

            • Roar Guru

              January 17th 2018 @ 11:48am
              jeznez said | January 17th 2018 @ 11:48am | ! Report

              Agree Nick – think there are three very interesting ‘watches’ in the season coming.

              Uelese at hooker
              Tupou at TH
              Slipper at LH

              I think that as long as TPN is fit he should be selected and if he is then along with Sio, Kepu and Alaalatoa there are a number of settled spots in the Wallabies front row.

              The three above look the most likely to break into the squad with as you point out Latu and Ready in the mix as well.

              The guy under the most pressure should be Robertson – we’ll have to see if he can respond.

              • January 17th 2018 @ 12:18pm
                MitchO said | January 17th 2018 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

                Jez. Robertson will keep getting better at scrummaging as he gets older and more experienced but his last outings on the northern trip showed that right now his scrummaging is a serious liability for the team. Robertson still looks at least a couple of seasons away from getting his scrummaging close enough to par.

              • Roar Guru

                January 17th 2018 @ 12:50pm
                jeznez said | January 17th 2018 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

                I think he is in a tough spot – his best scrummaging has been at TH at Super level but there is a strong belief that at 107kg he doesn’t have the size to play the position in Tests.

                He’s been shifted to a different position and selected in hope. There is no guarantee he’ll make it as a LH – I have never seen him dominate on that side, at any level.

              • January 17th 2018 @ 1:23pm
                Markus said | January 17th 2018 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

                Even Robertson’s best scrummaging at Super level was nothing more than reasonable, it was just that it was better than that of Ta’avao. Comparing to another small TH like Brumbies reserve Les Makin, who has dominated opposition scrums at times when he comes on, and Robertson just has not shown himself to be that strong a scrummager.

                At 107kg he is small for any prop, and his build doesn’t look like he will be able to get any bigger than he already is. He may still improve technically and be a sound Super rugby prop, but if selectors were colour-blind I doubt I would ever see him as a Wallabies regular.

              • Roar Guru

                January 17th 2018 @ 3:21pm
                jeznez said | January 17th 2018 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

                He is significantly better at TH than Ta’avao – the Tahs scrum retreated with Gus in it and went forward when TR came on during his first season.

                I think it is fairly criminal that he wasnn’t left to develop where he was. Am sure a large part is him putting his hand up to seek higher honours.

                As long as he stays at LH his prior performance there remains irrelevant.

                Anyway at the Tahs level I’m most interested to get a look at the new hooker Sauni and Force signing Shambeckler-Vui.

              • Columnist

                January 17th 2018 @ 5:48pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 5:48pm | ! Report

                Hard to know where Tom Robertson really fits in with Slipper coming back – I can’t think of any one area where he’s better than the Queensland man (except he’s five years younger). But I’d have both Slipper and AAA playing as a LH ahead of him right now.

              • Columnist

                January 17th 2018 @ 5:52pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 5:52pm | ! Report

                To Jez (below)…

                Yes I don’t know Robertson’s actual weight, but 107 kilos is far, far too small for Test rugby. It’s only borderline for a hooker, as the article suggests!

                However exceptional you are technically, you need that baseline power and productive size!

              • Roar Guru

                January 18th 2018 @ 1:42am
                Harry Jones said | January 18th 2018 @ 1:42am | ! Report

                Props should be HUGE!

              • Roar Guru

                January 18th 2018 @ 1:43am
                Harry Jones said | January 18th 2018 @ 1:43am | ! Report

                That’s why they called props

              • January 17th 2018 @ 5:55pm
                Fionn said | January 17th 2018 @ 5:55pm | ! Report

                Could you see Tupou as a LHP, Nick?

              • January 18th 2018 @ 9:51am
                hello said | January 18th 2018 @ 9:51am | ! Report

                I think I would like you to bite your thumb and impart all the knowledge you can in regards to the aus front row.
                Hooker is worrying in worrying but we have a number of young guys that if they can make that step up to test level we are looking good.
                Props we have a good list but only 1 in Kepu is truly of standard.
                Tupou well please bite your thumb and tell us which side to play him on 🙂

    • January 17th 2018 @ 6:13am
      mzillikazi said | January 17th 2018 @ 6:13am | ! Report

      Good evening, Nic. A fascinating and most interesting article.

      I met Tom Lawton once, just as he was retiring, and had a good chat. Really nice guy. And indeed a very impressive physical specimen.

      I did not know the family history fully, so find that interesting. So thanks for that. One of the many reasons we all so much enjoy your articles is this kind of interesting background. As a Rhodes Scholar, I assumed he was a Rugby Blue as well, but Wiki says not. He was picked for the Varsity match , but some fool/fools objected, having found out he had played rugby league…presumably as a young boy. So no rugby blue.

      I see Tom Snr. was a flyhalf, so the “beef” genes have come from elsewhere in the breeding of Tom junior !

      Off topic,speaking of Rhodes Scholarships, we came very close to having two in our family a few years ago. One, my nephew, made it….from Zimbabwe….., and was in the Oxford extended rowing squad up to a final cut for the big race, and then dropped out. The other, my wife’s niece…from Australia….., came close in the interview process.

      On the day my nephew graduated, we were in Oxford, but did not expect to be able to attend. At the last moment, a ticket became available, but I only had casual clothes. The school friend we were staying with, an Oxford professor himself….one of the world’s leading experts on Sir C Wren, I’m told…….insisted I would not be allowed in unless wearing a suit and tie. So I had to borrow one from him, and he is a lot shorter and slimmer than I am. I did not look that good ! Was really annoyed when I saw a couple of brothers of other graduates “smart casually” dressed in jeans and open necked shirts.

      An interested historical fact I learned later in the day, when visiting Rhodes House, was that the War Memorial boards there are the only place in the world one will see British/Commonwealth/Irish/American names alongside names of German fallen as well.

      • Columnist

        January 17th 2018 @ 10:13am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:13am | ! Report

        Thanks for the fascinating background MZ.

        Yes Tom Lawton seems like one of the (genuine) good guys, and I found myself being drawn in by his grandfather’s story. This is the sort of lineage which is a jewel in the dross of rugby.


        • January 17th 2018 @ 5:16pm
          cuw said | January 17th 2018 @ 5:16pm | ! Report

          @ Nicholas Bishop

          how does and if , having a bigger hooker than the two props , affect the scrum mechanics?

          i mean my amateur view is that the pressure comes from the edges than the middle – either from one side or both sides.

          so most of the time one prop manages to bring his opponent down to a knee or move inwards or rotate .

          the physics of this will be interesting to hear from u 😀

          • January 17th 2018 @ 5:46pm
            mzillikazi said | January 17th 2018 @ 5:46pm | ! Report

            CUW, one comment I would make is that there is a difference between an own put in scrum, therefore more defensive, and an opposition put in scrum, which is essentially offensive..

            In the former, the hooker has to ensure a strike, and possession gained. Under current referee interpretation of the put in, where the ball is put in “off centre”, and even crooked sometimes, a big hooker can get away with his lack of flexibility. But on own put in, the props are critical in stabalising the scrum.

            In the latter, the big hooker can really come into his own as a pressure applier/disrupter. The 8 man shove can often destroy the opposition scrum…leading to an against the head win, or penalty.

            Scrum mechanics involved…that would really need a full article, IMO. A really interesting topic.

            • Columnist

              January 17th 2018 @ 5:59pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 5:59pm | ! Report

              As below MZ – often can depend on where the ref allows the ball to be put in… Mitrea insisted on a very central delivery and it meant more opportunity for the defending side when the hooker raised his foot to strike!

              • January 17th 2018 @ 8:16pm
                cuw said | January 17th 2018 @ 8:16pm | ! Report

                the central delivery was the fad a few years ago.

                i remember one NZ v Auzzy match where both Aaron and Genia were alternatively pinged by Joubert. then he said next time you are off .

                how will that be if both sides lose their scrum half 😀 didnot happen tho.

                anyways that was the in thing . now refs are more worried about the neck high takles and ignore almost everything else.

                and ofcourse with LAW change they are looking at where tackler ends up also. but how long that attention will last is left to be seen ….

          • Columnist

            January 17th 2018 @ 5:57pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 5:57pm | ! Report

            It’s a huge question that I’ve probed in another articles CUW. But the bottom line is that the area in which the hooker chooses to apply his power (basically: left, right or straight ahead) determines where th scrum will go. He is the fulcrum and he has to have the reservoir of power if your scrum really wants to go places!

            Having said that, the recent Leinster-Glasgow was interesting, as the ref Marius Mitrea kept on pinging both sides for ‘not straight’ or not hooking the ball in the tunnel, until they stopped. So the #2 needed some flexibility in order to get into a position where he could rake the ball!

            • January 17th 2018 @ 8:13pm
              cuw said | January 17th 2018 @ 8:13pm | ! Report

              i saw that one and it was funny for a while. mainly becoz 90% of refs dont care where the ball is put in.

              if u remember the baba v nz match , owens pinged baba scrum half for putting ball in 2nd row. then the nz scrum half did the same 😀

    • Roar Guru

      January 17th 2018 @ 6:32am
      Kia Kaha said | January 17th 2018 @ 6:32am | ! Report

      And I thought we had it bad at 10! That’s a lot of departures all at once not to mention a ton of experience.

      122 is massive. I thought Marx was a behemoth but he’s supposedly 8 kilos lighter.

      What’s his mobility like, NB? That’s a lot of weight to shift around the park.

      • January 17th 2018 @ 8:13am
        Fionn said | January 17th 2018 @ 8:13am | ! Report

        He actually moves pretty well from what I’ve seen, Kia Kaha.

        • Roar Guru

          January 17th 2018 @ 8:32am
          Kia Kaha said | January 17th 2018 @ 8:32am | ! Report

          Well that’s simply not fair, Fionn. 😉

      • Columnist

        January 17th 2018 @ 10:14am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        What’s his mobility like, NB? That’s a lot of weight to shift around the park.

        I guess we’ll find out KK – he looks pretty nimble on his feet on the carry – at least for a bulldozer 🙂

        • January 17th 2018 @ 12:15pm
          jameswm said | January 17th 2018 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

          He has a step, and some acceleration. I wouldn’t mind him losing 2-3 kgs to improve his acceleration and it would make life easier aerobically. I really hope our S & C guys know what they’re doing. The ABs focus on speed and the engine, and don’t let size dominate mobility.

          • January 17th 2018 @ 12:17pm
            Fionn said | January 17th 2018 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

            James, I think it is more accurate to say that the All Blacks focus on finding the right balance between size and speed.

            • January 17th 2018 @ 2:08pm
              jameswm said | January 17th 2018 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

              Well, true. They are constantly testing and won’t give up speed for size.

              I wish some schoolboy coaches would listen.

          • Columnist

            January 17th 2018 @ 6:00pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 6:00pm | ! Report

            He looks trim though doesn’t he James – not carry any extra around the waist or hips?

        • January 17th 2018 @ 1:00pm
          Perthstayer said | January 17th 2018 @ 1:00pm | ! Report


          I see pre Lions Jamie George as interesting comparison to Uelese. They have different skill sets and provide useful signs on where the game is/may/should be going.

          With new ruck laws coming I feel “modern” 2’s need to act as 4th back row, have good hands and be quick on the burst.

          To me Uelese is old school. You highlight his strengths, and they are strong, but the game is accelerating and I don’t see there’s space in a Top 3 ranked Nation for a hulking 2.

          Or is this all a moot point given WBs poor depth at prop means a big fella is needed?

          • Columnist

            January 17th 2018 @ 6:05pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 6:05pm | ! Report

            I think Uelese’s most basic point of diff is that he’s simply the biggest and strongest guy out there – and you can build a skill set around that at his age with the right coaching.

            Jamie George is an interesting one, because his body-shape looks horrible! But his skills are actually very good and he’s fit too, so appearances can be deceptive. Both he and Luke Cowan-Dickie will be pressurizing Dylan Hartley for the job this season.

            • January 17th 2018 @ 8:09pm
              Steiner said | January 17th 2018 @ 8:09pm | ! Report

              Great article Nick. Don’t worry though he’s an Aussie rugby player so our systems will make him mediocre?

    • Roar Guru

      January 17th 2018 @ 7:40am
      Diggercane said | January 17th 2018 @ 7:40am | ! Report

      Thank you Nick, HNY and all that too!

      Uelese is an exciting prospect, one player I am looking forward to watching this upcoming season, though I am always interested in watching hookers because they are the best. 🙂

      It does seem many new faces struggle with their throwing which seems odd to me given the positional choice these guys make, perhaps not so much of a priority until seniors?

      • Columnist

        January 17th 2018 @ 10:17am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:17am | ! Report

        Happy New Year to you too Digger! Where have you been, my man?

        And thanks for showing the hooker love… quite frankly I wonder how modern hookers cope with all the movement and variations thought up by lineout nerds. He’ll have his hands full with Geoff Parling down at the Rebels, that’s for sure!

        • Roar Guru

          January 17th 2018 @ 11:38am
          Machooka said | January 17th 2018 @ 11:38am | ! Report

          Thanks Nicholas for another find piece… and no surprises that our Diggercane expresses his public love for this important topic. I know first hand he’s the expert when it comes to this sort of shyte.

          And I, too, realise the importance of a good number two… and the bigger the better. Very important in the scheme of things. Necessary. Healthy. Like you’re dead (as a team) if you don’t type thingy. 🙂

          • Roar Guru

            January 17th 2018 @ 11:51am
            jeznez said | January 17th 2018 @ 11:51am | ! Report

            Ha ha ha – gold, straight from the bottom drawer but gold!

          • Roar Guru

            January 17th 2018 @ 2:08pm
            Diggercane said | January 17th 2018 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

            Too kind old fella, too kind, I do rate myself highly around the old hooker subject.

            Harry is also quite the expert on the number 2 also, has quite a lot of knowledge to share on the matter does our Mr Jones.

            • Roar Guru

              January 18th 2018 @ 5:20am
              Harry Jones said | January 18th 2018 @ 5:20am | ! Report

              I am the Number One Number Two-er in the World

              • Columnist

                January 18th 2018 @ 5:47am
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 18th 2018 @ 5:47am | ! Report

              • Roar Guru

                January 18th 2018 @ 6:40am
                Harry Jones said | January 18th 2018 @ 6:40am | ! Report

                Laconic Nick.

              • Columnist

                January 18th 2018 @ 7:45am
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 18th 2018 @ 7:45am | ! Report

                You got that from Geoffrey didn’t you H? He has a lot to answer for 😀

              • Roar Guru

                January 18th 2018 @ 9:07pm
                Harry Jones said | January 18th 2018 @ 9:07pm | ! Report

                Our Allanthus is good with labels!

          • Columnist

            January 17th 2018 @ 6:06pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 6:06pm | ! Report

            Exactly how do you know first-hand Chook (and no gory details please)?? 😀

        • January 17th 2018 @ 12:16pm
          jameswm said | January 17th 2018 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

          Is Parling a lineout nut? Can work hard on Uelese’s throwing, technique etc?

          • January 17th 2018 @ 12:43pm
            MitchO said | January 17th 2018 @ 12:43pm | ! Report

            James, Nick B has previously said that Parling is an absolute lineout guru. I don’t know if that includes throwing technique but it’ll make him handy.

          • Roar Guru

            January 17th 2018 @ 12:53pm
            jeznez said | January 17th 2018 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

            He’ll need someone with throwing skills to work with him. That won’t be Parling. Parling is likely to set him challenging targets with regard to timing and positions which will stand him in good stead.

            • January 17th 2018 @ 2:09pm
              jameswm said | January 17th 2018 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

              Yeah for sure. OK technique will need assistance, but he will have a hord torskmorster in his own team, which has to be a good thing.

          • Columnist

            January 17th 2018 @ 6:07pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 6:07pm | ! Report

            Yep Geoff is a well known lineout study. He and Steve Borthwick prob the two best lineout analysts in the English game!

        • Roar Guru

          January 17th 2018 @ 2:06pm
          Diggercane said | January 17th 2018 @ 2:06pm | ! Report

          Mate, just working, a bit of a break in Napier though have some ‘enforced’ house renos to attend too, just stuff like that, hopefully you had some fun and relaxing times up your way?

          Yeah, it would be tough but I reckon you just have to shut out the movement and visualise the target, no worries as they say (and a fair bit of practice in between!) It will be interesting to see how the Rebels lineout goes, an area of concern for them in the past, hopefully Parling has the desired affect, quality player.

          • Columnist

            January 17th 2018 @ 6:10pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 6:10pm | ! Report

            Yep Parling will prob simplify things a lot for JU to begin with. Super Rugby probably won’t have seen many people with Parling’s lineout knowledge and ability to run the show, so he’ll be invaluable for Coleman’s education too…

            • Roar Guru

              January 17th 2018 @ 8:42pm
              jeznez said | January 17th 2018 @ 8:42pm | ! Report

              You need to qualify that as Aussie Super Rugby – Victor Matfield knew the odd thing about running a lineout!

              • Columnist

                January 17th 2018 @ 8:57pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 8:57pm | ! Report

                Too true Jez – Matfield was a great one, he ran probably the best lineout in he history of the game!

              • January 17th 2018 @ 9:09pm
                Fionn said | January 17th 2018 @ 9:09pm | ! Report

                Best in history you think? Whoa!

              • Roar Guru

                January 18th 2018 @ 10:53am
                jeznez said | January 18th 2018 @ 10:53am | ! Report

                Fionn – in terms of “running” a lineout the only candidates are from the modern era with lifters. Prior lineouts resembled more of a dockyard brawl with the forwards in tight. In the old days it wasn’t overly organised, more magical chaos.

                There were great lineout jumpers but the overall running of a lineout with the intricacy that is involved today did not exist.

                In that context it is hard to think of anyone ahead of Matfield.

            • January 17th 2018 @ 10:30pm
              mzillikazi said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:30pm | ! Report

              Yes,Nic ,don’t think you are far wrong re Matfield and his running of the lineout. I can’t think of anyone I have seen who was/is better

              • January 18th 2018 @ 12:58am
                Rebellion said | January 18th 2018 @ 12:58am | ! Report

                Frik DuPreez?

                On individual skill John Eales was kinda handy in the line out

    • January 17th 2018 @ 7:41am
      Adsa said | January 17th 2018 @ 7:41am | ! Report

      I watched the Baa Baa v WallyB match this week being replayed, the rake who stood out was Ready he bagged a try, pulled of a couple of bell ringers in defence and was in everything. Uelese was most noted for being a slow moving target and was smashed by Palu.

      • Columnist

        January 17th 2018 @ 10:18am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:18am | ! Report

        I really rate Andrew Ready Ads. He had a great 2016 but seemed to succumb to the general malaise under Nick Stiles last year. I expect the contest between him, Uelese and Tolu Latu to be a battle royal in 2018.

        • January 18th 2018 @ 11:53am
          Harry said | January 18th 2018 @ 11:53am | ! Report

          Hope both Ready and Latu put their poor 2017’s behind them, through Ready had a strong NRC to hopefully get back on track. There is another good young hooker up in Queensland, Alex Mafi, who is big enough and has had a good rugby grounding to date. Hopefully come through under Thorn.

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