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.



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

Thank you Rabbitz for this tribute. I remember the function well and how charming your wife was to me and David Lord, and your enthusiasm for matters rugby.

Warning ALERT: I’ll be writing more for The Roar now than in the past, I would guess. I found it hard to come up with new ideas later in the week when I had to keep material and ideas for The SMH. Now I don’t want have to do this so a greater degree of freedom to write more for The Roar has opened up to me.

Leaving The SMH after over 30 years of writing a rugby column for the paper was my idea. The editors told me that they wanted me to stay on but I felt that this space should go now to a younger writer, someone who could bring a different perspective on rugby matters than mine.

This notion of opening up the writing field to new writers was one of the main drivers of The Roar.

I am thrilled that The Roar has provided the opportunity for some many different points of view to be expressed on all the sports. And I want to be a continuing part of the great dialogue The Roar is engaged in.

So for me and all the other Roarers the motto remains: Write On!

Thanks for all the memories, Spiro

Dave, I played rugby at various levels, including first grade rugby, until my early 30s. Don’t be fooled by my name and apply the stupid rule to me that I had to be a football player.

Jones vs Cheika: This time it's nasty and Jones is to blame

Mary, great information and excellent writing about the next big force in sport, women athletes.

The HSBC Sydney 7s are coming in February and I look forward to your reports on the Olympic Gold-winning Australian Rugby Women’s Sevens side, a team full of sensational athletes with great back stories that deserve to be written about.

Women in sport: The weekly wrap

Thanks for this. It takes me all my time just to switch on. I’ll be holding out for it all coming right, as the ARU suggest it might.

The Wallabies could win a Grand Slam and angry fans might not see it

A wonderful piece of writing and research from cricket’s finest writer. The detail, the beauty and the skill in putting together how this unique image of Victor Trumper leaping out to straight drive was achieved confirm Gideon Haigh as the Trumper of cricket writers.

GIDEON HAIGH: Stroke of Genius - an extract

Unlike Stephen Jones I applaud this development as it enhances the potential for winning rugby within the straitjacket of the laws. Since RWC 2011, the All Blacks have played 60 Tests, with 2 draws and 3 losses.

Where Jones sees the basketball analogy as a bad thing. I see it as the key to the present dominance of the All Blacks.

Smile coach Cheika, the Wallabies actually beat the Springboks!

Great article, 70s Mo, and another edition in the folio of outstanding long essays published on The Roar.

I’ve always believed that the early days of rugby union and rugby league in Australia would make a terrific television series.

There are a host of characters, endless intrigue and great storylines featuring iconic Australians like Victor Trumper and Dally Messenger, Edward Barton and so on.

What a great project for the Fox Sports network to get behind.

All Blacks, All Blues, All Golds: The birth of Australian Rugby League

Just as correction. The bat of my victim was slung around his NECK and not his knee.

Great cricketers the world forgot

My memory is that Haverford College in Philly was the home ground of Bart King. When I was studying at a university in Washington D.C. a team of diplomats took the bus from Washington to Philly to play the Haverford College side. I was roped in as a diplomat for the day.

My memory of the ground, this was the the mid 1960s remember, was that it was modelled on the old English village grounds. There were trees surrounding the boundaries. The pavilion was in Ye Old English mode. When you went in to change you saw jock straps, old gloves and other gear casually strewn around.

The cricket ethic sort of stopped there. The Haverford side seemed to me made up of baseball players. Most of them were dressed in Vietnam War gear with bandanas around their heads. They had wicked, politically correct wispy beards and they yelled and hollered whenever anything of moment happened.

I opened the batting with an Indian diplomat. Early on, I nudged a ball to third man and sauntered through for a run. My partner was even slower between the wickets than I was. The throw from the out-field came in like a rocket, hard, flat and fast. The diplomat was run out by yards.

The only wicket I got was when I bowled to to the last man in who was dressed in his battle fatigues and took his stance with his bat slung around his knee, in the baseball manner. A quickish yorker castled him before he could get the angle of his bat at the perpendicular.

In the dressing room, though, after the game I did notice material on Bart King whose influence still prevailed but whether this is the case now, who knows?

Thanks for reviving the memory of America’s greatest cricketer and arguably one of the great bowlers in the history of the game.

Great cricketers the world forgot

Thanks for this. Homer has nodded, once again, unfortunately. For Auckland please read Wellington. As you say, the dead rubber will be played at Auckland on 22 October.

A well-selected and well-coached Wallabies side will beat the Springboks

Harry, congratulations on a terrific piece of writing and a deep insight into what makes Michael Cheika run.

In the end, sport is about the people who participate in whatever the activity is. These people have a history, going back generations and into the present, that offer clues as to why they behave, play, coach and talk in the way they do.

The metaphor involved with linking the sinking of the SS Waratah with the sinking fortunes of the Wallabies and former Waratahs coach is brilliantly apt.

Linking Michael Cheika’s personal history with the history of the Maronite communities in South Africa and Australia provides a social history perspective and context for understanding what makes him what he is.

This is sports writing, or should I say writing, of the highest quality. It is a credit to you. The readers of The Roar (and dare I say it, Michael Cheika himself) are greatly indebted to you for creating this insightful essay.

Michael Cheika and the SS Waratah: A story of a Wallabies coach and a shipwrecked cruisliner

Brett, don’t forget that Mark Ella in The Australian last week made similar points about the Giteau Law players as I did, even more trenchantly than me, I might add. “(Michael Cheika) has made a calculated gamble by bringing back a legion of veteran Wallabies from France ,,, If they could not beat the All Blacks at the peak of their careers, how will they do it now?” he asked.

Perhaps “the credit for a Wallabies win” might be shared between me and Mark for inspiring the players into a victory. Is this not the role of commentators?

The talking points: Bledisloe 1

The combined height and weight of Paddy and Will Skelton might have made a decent-sized second-rower, I reckon.

Play for keeps: Consistent aggression the missing ingredient for our Wallabies

Pot Hale because you can’t understand what Hansen says, it does not mean that Hansen is not making sense with his comments.

Rust never sleeps: Can the out-of-form Wallabies win at Melbourne?