Moore hoping to undermine Irish roots
The hooker could have played for the Ireland rugby team but remains a proud Australian
Stephen Moore (centre) training yesterday with the visiting Wallabies squad at Wanderers RFC in Dublin. Despite being born in Ireland and having strong Irish roots, the proud Australian will have no divided loyalties during Saturday’s international against Ireland. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Picking over the bones of his Irish roots is close to Stephen Moore’s heart. But what makes it beat faster is a yellow jersey, not green.
Moore, the Wallabies’ marble block of a hooker, smiles and self-knowingly notes misgivings about himself and Gaelic football: “My body type wasn’t exactly suited to it,” he says.
That Gaelic football was part of his school’s curriculum in Brisbane Grammar tells more about the network and influence of Irish roots in Australia than Ireland’s claim on a sizable chunk of Wallaby genetic material.
They own us as much as we them and while Moore and the ethnic Tongan Israel Folau have strong lineage, they are fearlessly as Australian as bush tucker and dillybags.
Their’s is a nuanced background, with Folau’s ability to tiptoe across three professional codes, Rugby Union, Rugby League and Australia Rules Football, also adding a searing demonstration of athletic capability.
Moore’s cousin Paddy O’Rourke played in goals against Australia in the recent International Rules series. Folau was mentored by Setanta Ó hAilpín when he turned to AFL. He’s just back again in union since December 2012. Where ever you look you can find cross-pollination working.
“He says he wants to play hurling next,” says Moore, glancing over to the 6ft 5in, 100-kg frame sitting beside him. “We asked the liaison officer to bring a couple (of hurleys) to training so we might whack it around. I guess he’d do pretty good if his last couple of sports are any guide.”
Moore’s early memories of living in Galway’s coastal suburb Salthill are vague but tattooed in his mind. When the IRFU came investigating he was too young to know his rugby path but at 19-years-old Australian affections were burning hottest anyway.
“At this stage, the family have jumped the fence,” he says. “My cousins support Ireland and I understand that. I suppose you leave it all out there on the field when you go out and play.
“It’s a special week, especially over here. I’ll go visit some family on my day off. There are always lots of people to catch up with, people to find tickets for. I’ve also got my mother, my sister, my wife, my son over here.”
“But I’ve been in Australia since I was five years old and I consider myself a proud Australian. In saying that, I’m still very proud of my heritage. We’ve got plenty of guys in the team like that.”
Father Galway, mother Mayo, cousins are scattered around the capital no more than an hour from Dublin. Today, four generations will assemble in the Meath nursing home of his grandmother. Moore’s wife and son are here already and with his mother arriving today, Saturday’s match is layered with colour and skewed allegiances. But beating Ireland is the reason he came.
“The England game was obviously a step backwards,” he says of the Wallabies’ defeat two weekends ago. “We have looked for answers in that performance. Maybe the attitude wasn’t right, I’m not sure. We certainly did a lot of good things at the weekend that we can take forward with us and I’m sure Ireland are in a similar boat after a disappointing Six Nations but a good win against Samoa.
“Ewen (Australia coach McKenzie) knows what style of game he wants to play and there is a fine line between playing winning rugby and attractive rugby. I heard someone talking about Joe Schmidt in the same light.
“But you still need to get your basics right, your set-pieces and your territory and possession before you can worry about running with the ball and that sort of stuff.
“You can’t have one without the other, I suppose. And as a frontrower I certainly take a very personal interest in the darker side of the game, the scrummaging, mauling and lineout. I need to get that right so guys like Issy (Folau) can attack.”
Australia are chasing consistency and when England took the lead in Twickenham the team were simply not good enough to respond. Ireland are viewed as a step up from Italy but not as dangerous as Stuart Lancaster’s men and while there is no sense of assumption or false modesty in the tone of voice, neither is there any fear despite a perceived lethal cocktail of bad scrum and bad weather.
“It was disappointing to give away so many penalties against England, particularly on their ball,” says Moore. “Ireland’s scrum has really improved over the last few years and that’s going to be an area that we need to focus on.”
Parish games are often the most fractious and the hooker may draw his competitive instincts from that. Four generations gathering softens the week. But in the world of Test rugby there can be no such thing as divided loyalties.