The Roar
The Roar

Spiro Zavos


Joined December 2006







Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was a long-time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that ran 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.



It occurs to me that if I were writing that section of the essay now I would have given examples of where the producer’s version of the game has been used, in some instances, in various countries to affect the decision of referees.

We know that sometimes a replay will come up on the big screen alerting the referee to something he and the assistant referees might have missed.

Sometimes these replays are required with the new protocols regarding high tackles and foul play.

But there are other occasions like forward passes where the judgment of the referee and his assistant is put under pressure.

Almost invariably these interventions by the television producers favour the home side.

How to watch a game of rugby: Part 2

As one of those rugby writers who has an ‘erratic’ preference for Liam Wright over Michael Hooper, I would make a couple of points in support of my position.

First, Hooper is one of those players, in my opinion, whose statistics are much better than his actual play.

If you watch his play carefully, you come to a realisation that many of his tackles are second-in tackles made after someone else has made the initial hit.

When he was younger he could make searing runs off an inside pass from a playmaker. This aspect of his play is rarely seen now.

Which brings me to the second point, you rarely if ever see Hooper make a big play. It is quite remarkable that after a long career with the Waratahs and Wallabies that there no big plays, match-turning plays, can be remembered about his play.

Third, he lacks the dynamism he had when he burst on to the scene. It is inevitable that a number 7 slows down and becomes less dynamic after playing a long stint in Super Rugby and Test rugby.

Richie McCaw started out as a tearaway, try-scoring number 7. I saw him score several tries for a NZ Junior side against an England side in a curtain-raiser before an All Blacks – Springboks match at Christchurch.

But as his career went on and after the inevitable injuries and knocks, he slowed down. When this happened, he re-designed his game, rather like Michael Jones.

In this re-designed style, he was effective in different ways from when he came into the All Blacks as a youngster. His last Test, the Rugby World Cup final in 2015 was one of his finest matches but in a different mode to, say, his first Test against Ireland when he turned on a terrific second half, won the Match of the Match award and help turn a large points deficit against the All Blacks into a victory.

The point here is that Hooper is at the point of his career when he should be maturing his game to be as effective as he was when he was younger.

He isn’t and hasn’t done this.

When there is no growth in a player’s game and he is long into his career, it is time to look to his successor.

Right now that looks like Liam Wright.

The great Australian openside debate: Round 2

The point of my article was to point out that Rugby Australia has still not honoured its commitment to the Christian players to set out what is acceptable to say publicly about their beliefs, and what is not acceptable to the organisation and RUPA – and, presumably, its sponsors.

The lack of a definitive statement on this matter is the ‘shadow’ obscuring the good things that might be happening in Australian rugby.

Shadow of Folau obscures signs of rugby's revival in Australia


Thanks for this. Hopefully we will meet up again at Eastgate and have a chat about the things that matter in life, rugby issues. I’d relish that. See you soon. I learn more about rugby and life matters from readers than I do from my fellow rugby journalists.


Boks glory: A team of 57 million people beats 23 professionals


Your argument was that without Israel Folau the back three performance would improve.

I didn’t see that argument fulfilled against England.

Michael Cheika's failure at the World Cup is Rugby Australia's, too

This is correct.

(17 September 2018) Guide to the Qantas and Emirates alliance published by Qantas.

‘Launched in 2013, this airline partnership offers Qantas and Emirates customers more seamless travel between Australia, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. This includes Qantas flights that connect to Europe through Dubai, as well as Emirates flights to Australia and New Zealand … Depending on your membership status and fare class, you also can enjoy access to airline lounges operated by both Qantas and Emirates …’

This partnership replaced the agreement with Etihad.

There is no indication in the new alliance announcement that Emirates has desisted from its policy, shared with Etihad, of not employing gays .

Israel Folau has been unfairly hounded out of Australian rugby

A statement issued from Sydney on 8 March 2010, Qantas Corporate Communication (4033) said: ‘Qantas today announced an expansion of its codeshare partnership with Etihad to include land transport from Abu Dhabi to Dubai … Qantas currently codeshares on Etihad services between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane …’

Qantas does have a business arrangement with Etihad that operates in Australia.

Spiro Zavos

Israel Folau has been unfairly hounded out of Australian rugby

Thank you for this. I regard the comments the most important part of any article I write.

I read them all and take in all the new facts and interesting insights that are invariably raised in them.

The comments are the real roar of The Roar.

An update from The Roar regarding comments

His photograph was never published while he was playing representative rugby.

Brad Thorn's selection policy has him on the right track for a Reds resurrection

Is this ODI being carried on any television station?

England vs Australia highlights: International cricket, first ODI live scores, blog

That second sentence should read: I did not play for New Zealand or Australia on the sporting field.

The Baggy Green Caps need to use the mantra: 'What would Richie say?'

Ian, you win the bet. I did not representative New Zealand or Australia on the sporting field.

I was inducted into the Greek/ Australian Sporting Hall of Fame, along with Peter Peters for services to sports journalism. And I did represent Wellington as an opening batsman against MCC (England) in a first class cricket match. Does this count in the bet?

Seriously, though, you don’t have to be an actual practictioner to give well-considered opinions on matters of sporting interest, or any other interest for that matter.

The Baggy Green Caps need to use the mantra: 'What would Richie say?'

Robin Williams once reckoned that cricket was “baseball on valium.” I’d say that if T10 catches on the Williams joke will have to be changed to “baseball is T10 on valium.”

Incidentally, congratulations to Anindya on his new book “Spell-binding Spells,”, a fascinating study of most of the greatest bursts of bowling in the history of Test cricket.

Can T10 make cricket a truly global game?

DaveJ, that photo of Bradman and Cowdrey you have sent in is interesting.. Bradman’s top and bottom hand are further around the handle of the bat, in different directions, than Cowdrey’s.

The more I look at these two grips the more I see a sort of golf-overlapping grip by Cowdrey, allowing to the two hands to work as one, and a sort of two-handed baseball grip by Bradman, allowing either hand but especially the bottom hand to be the dominate hand.

Superbat Smith clones the Bradman method to become Australia's next-best batsman

Richard, there was no antagonism to South Africans in my use of the Herbert Sutcliffe statistic. I wanted to contrast the highest averages of a batsman playing over 50 Tests. Herbert Sutcliffe, after Steve Smith, has the third best batting average in this category.

Like you (and Don Bradman) and many thousands of cricket lovers I believe that Graeme Pollock was the greatest left-hand batsman of all time.

Superbat Smith clones the Bradman method to become Australia's next-best batsman

Atawhai Drive, there was a trial, I believe at Palmerston North, a couple of hours drive from Wellington, on the Wednesday before the Test.

After injuries (the gun winger Wally Argus was ruled out injured) and selection matters were resolved, the team was selected, according to reports at the time, on the Friday.

All Blacked-out! Inspiring stories of Bledisloe Cup glory and defeat

Paul, a most interesting article with some great research.

An interesting other issue in the development of the various football codes in Australia is the geographical/topographical imperative.

Melbourne had miles and miles of flat land so that a football game based around the Gaelic model on a huge paddock was feasible, if not desirable. Australian Rules, is one of the handful of games, like hockey and cricket, where there is not a standardised

Sydney and Brisbane, though, are hilly. There was a lack of flat land for sports paddocks. A football game on a smaller, standard-sized field was an obvious answer.

Taking this further, if you have a field some miles in length, as the first fields were in Melbourne, you need to create a game with a lot of people on the field, with a lot of kicking rather than passing to cover the distances between goals.

Anyway, Paul, great stuff and the stuff of invigorating discussion/argument in the finest sporting traditions.

Congratulations, too, to Daniel and his crew for the splendid presentation of the article.

The murky origins of Australia’s football codes

Sean O’Brien has now been cleared by the Commission.

But the fact that he was cited for an action with a “red card threshold” shows that there was the real possibility that the referee Jerome Garces, with a different view to the incident might well have given him a yellow card.

I think the debate about all this should be whether a red card offence should result in a rest of the match suspension.

My suggestion is that yellow cards should mean 10 minutes in the sin-bin and red cards 20 minutes.

Would the Lions have won if Sean O'Brien had been sent off?

I am at a loss to know how to respond to this tall tale from Wayne. But here goes.

The fact that Wayne says that his call for the removal of Bill Pulver and the ARU came a month or so ago, actually proves my case. Before then, Wayne was a constant supporter of Pulver and the board, as he well knows.

That he now acknowledges he has changed his mind on his support is an important aspect to the continuing saga about the credibility of the ARU board and is chief executive. This is why I referenced it in my article.

If the board and the ARU has lost the support of the chief rugby writer for The Australian, when they had in it the past, then this is an important a rugby news story. And this is why I reported it.

When the Michael Hawker/Bill Pulver team came in to run the ARU their strongest support came from Wayne. Wayne’s ferocious opposition to the former administration the Hawker/Pulver team replaced is part of the folklore of Australian rugby.

I am a journalist. I know that all of us want to have the inside running with organisations we write about. When I suggest that Wayne had this with the Hawker/Clyne/Pulver leadership there is a grudging sense of admiration in his achievement.

Every journalist works to get contacts within the organisation they are writing about. Wayne had those contacts and the rest of us who were shut out had to try and cope with his many news breaks.

The way Wayne’s name came up in my conversation with Pulver was like this.

I complained that the ARU generally did not publish statements on a frequent basis on the run of decisions taken by the ARU going about its routine business of running the game. The NZRU, I pointed out, publishes most of its statements and even has medias conferences after its board meetings.

Why didn’t the ARU copy this practice, I asked Pulver.

Pulver said: “If you want to find out what is happening, you only have to ring me.”

I replied: “How can I ring you to get further information about what is happening, when I don’t know what is happening.”

Pulver had no answer to this. It was then that I pointed out he was running that a system designed to keep the rugby media in the dark.

Pulver told me that this was how he operated and he wasn’t going to change.

After that reply I made the comment that the system favoured Wayne Smith and did not serve the interests of the wider Australian media or public.

Getting on to the issue of professional courtesy, I would point out that I really don’t have to contact Wayne about I said to Bill Pulver.

ARU madness! Pocock earns three times more than McMahon for not playing

Hi Nicholas

I love the new format and admire your clear-eyed analysis of what is happening with the Waratahs.

It’s a pity (I know you live overseas) that a franchise or the Wallabies haven’t made you an offer you couldn’t refuse to provide this sort of analysis for their teams.

It seems to me that one of the issues is Nathan Grey’s defensive systems. They are too easily destroyed by well-coached sides with the skills, mental and physical, to exploit their weaknesses.

You can’t expect to win game when you leak 40+ points regularly.

My questions are these: Why hasn’t Grey or Daryl Gibson forced changes in the defensive system?

Will Michael Cheika allow Nathan Grey to impose his clearly inadequate defensive systems on the Wallabies?

As a postscript, I was disappointed to hear Nathan Grey say before the Auckland Blues match that he was looking for more passion from his players to improve the Waratahs defensive record.

Passion dries up like water in a desert when it is not totally protected by workable systems.

Why the Waratahs are sinking to the bottom of a very deep blue sea

It would be the end of any reasonable rugby competitions in Australia. The good players would gravitate to rugby league.

Where does the ARU stand on Super Rugby format changes?

Webb Ellis running with the ball was referred to as “the founding myth of rugby.”

Italy's ruckless rugby was in the Webb Ellis spirit of the game

Leftarc, just look at the photo at the top of the article to see the circles I was writing about.

Daniel Vickerman's death casts a dark shadow over the rugby world

It is fascinating stories like this on The Roar, well-researched and written, that give a contemporary resonance to what is published.

The best sports writing, as this essay is, tells us a lot about ourselves. We see through the story of Walter Tull the on-going problems of our societies accepting the full democratic implications of a diverse community.

And the progress that has been made in all the sports in the UK to select on merit and for the crowds to identify with the players no matter what their background is.

Walter Tull: The pioneering footballer who battled racism and gave his life for his country

SaKiwiRoo, I wrote a series of pen portraits of the 1970 All Blacks for a South African news paper chain which I posed across to South Africa from Wellington, NZ.

I wrote that the monster lock Sam Strahan was the one All Black forward who didn’t have handling and passing skills of the other forwards.

Some time later I was at the wedding of an All Black on that tour, Earle Kirton. At the reception after the Wedding ceremony, I noticed the huge figure of Strahan making his determined way towards me. “Your bloody pen portrait of me,” he told me with some pained emphasis, “followed me throughout South Africa on the tour. Everywhere we went , the local paper printed what you wrote about me.
If tis weren’t a wedding I’d be inclined to take this matter further.”

I apologised profusely and contrived to avoid Sam for the rest of the wedding and the rest of my life …

Thanks for all the memories, Spiro