Wallaby watch: Stephen Moore

With the Lions tour to Australia now less than two years away, we'll be taking a look at the Wallaby heroes we expect to play a major role against Britain and Ireland's elite. [more]

Wallaby watch: Stephen Moore

With the Lions tour to Australia now less than two years away, we’ll be taking a look at the Wallaby heroes we expect to play a major role against Britain and Ireland’s elite.

Over the next 20 months we’ll give you the lowdown on the star names who pose the biggest threat to the Lions’ hopes of a first series victory in 16 years.

Some of the players we highlight will already be household names but others will be bolts from the blue, youngsters yet to appear on the big stage or experienced club campaigners peaking at just the right time to achieve the ultimate goal.

We’ll assess the veteran internationals who believe themselves worthy of a recall, as well as the foreign-based stars who may return home just in time to stake a claim for a second shot at Test glory.

Last month we began at the back by running the rule over current Wallaby No15 Kurtley Beale. This time around we’ll be heading into the pack to assess hooker Stephen Moore’s chances of facing the latest pride of Lions..

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A key member of the Wallaby set up for the past four seasons, Moore has become the rock upon which Australia have attempted to build their forward platform. While props have come and go as regular as clock work, the Wallaby hooking berth has become something of a one-man show.

After a slow start to his Test career following his debut in 2005, Moore established himself as his country’s first-choice prior to the 2007 World Cup, a tournament in which he started all bar one of the Wallabies’ five games. He went on to feature in each of their 14 Tests the following year and was described by legendary All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick as the game’s premier hooker that season.

And despite losing his place to perenial understudy Tatafu Polota-Nau for the final two games of the 2009 Tri Nations and then breaking his jaw in May 2010, Moore remains one of the first names on the teamsheet for the current Wallaby coaching staff.

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Stephen Moore is favourite to wear the Wallaby No2 shirt in 2013

The Australian pack may have been heavily criticised in recent years but Moore has often been the redeeming feature in an unsightly weakness. The 28-year-old’s tenacity and consistency in the tight have been major factors in Australia’s recent success as the Green and Gold look to rubbish claims that the setpiece remains a major weakness of their game.

And while the likes of Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Beale and James O’Connor may get most of the headlines when things go well for the Wallabies, it is clear that an Aussie line up minus Moore is a far less intimidating beast than it otherwise might be.

Most of the newspaper focus on team selection prior to Australia’s shock World Cup defeat to Ireland centred on the absence of star openside David Pocock but guess who else missed out that day? That’s right, our man Moore. Moore fell ill shortly before kick off and was forced to sit and watch the 15-6 reverse that threw the Home Unions’ route to the World Cup Final wide open.

With Moore missing out, the Australian setpiece simply went missing. Ireland dominated the lineout and got on top in the scrum despite hardly being renowned as the world’s most fearsome front row. Moore missed out, but boy did Australia miss Moore.

Rewind 14 months and it was a case of déjà vu against the English. With Moore’s broken jaw ruling him out of the two-Test series against Martin Johnson’s men, the Wallaby front three were simply smashed into the oblivion. Australia somehow survived two penalty tries for continuous scrum offences in the first international but their inferiority up front cost them dear a week later as England left Sydney with a famous win.

There seems to be a reoccurring theme within the Wallaby story: having Moore in the starting XV doesn’t necessarily turn the Aussie tight five into the best in the world but not having him in the side certainly results in a far, far weaker front row. Unless anything changes to significantly alter that assessment in the next two seasons, Moore looks like a safe bet to take on the Lions.

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Moore has more reasons than most to want to face the Lions

An equally safe wager would be that the Aussie hooker would be a particularly proud man if he does line up against the tourists given his substantial Irish roots.

Although born in Saudi Arabia, Moore could have been representing the Lions instead of playing against them had his parents taken a slightly different path. Moore’s mother and father moved back to their native Galway in the mid-eighties but were then tempted by life in Australia, eventually emigrating permanently in 1988 when Moore was five years old.

Moore still has large family links in Ireland, including a cousin who represented the country of his parents’ birth in fencing at the 2008 Olympics and another who plays Gaelic football for Meath. And if biological ties weren’t enough to hand him a special affiliation to a Lions tour, the fact that his early idol in the world game was none other than Lions hero Keith Wood should ensure he is familiar with the traditions of the famous red shirt.

Fast facts

Name: Stephen Moore
Date of birth: 20/01/1983
Position: Hooker
Club: Brumbies
Previous clubs: Reds
Height: 6ft 1in
Weight: 17 stone 9bs
Test debut: Versus Samoa in Sydney, June 2005
Test caps: 61 (as of 18/09/2011)
Honours: Australia U19; Australia U21; Australia A

Strengths and weaknesses

Strengths: physicality, solidity in the setpiece and consistency on the big stage.

Weaknesses: a lack of pace and mobility that would seem to limit the expansive game the Wallabies seem to favour.

Chances of being involved against the Lions: a firm favourite at the moment due to his scrummaging strength and solid lineout skills. A lot depends on whether more mobile hookers can match his setpiece prowess, something that looks unlikely right now given his rivals’ recent showings.

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Moore continues to be an essential element of Australian success

Rivals for the Wallaby shirt

Moore is massive for the Wallabies but that doesn’t mean he’s untouchable. He’ll be 30 years old by the time the Lions come calling and the Wallaby coaches can be pretty harsh when a player hits the big 3-0. Deans chose just three players outside of their 20s for the current World Cup campaign and his progressive selection policy seems unlikely to change over the next two seasons. Fellow hooker Huia Edmonds, a Wallaby tourist to the UK last year, signed for Saracens after being told Deans was looking at younger options for the World Cup and beyond so it wouldn’t be unthinkable if Moore too was shown the exit door a little earlier than he would like.

You get the impression Deans would love Saia Faingaa or Tatafu Polota-Nau to really come of age on the international scene and put serious pressure on Moore but, although the pair are growing in experience, neither can claim to have starred consistently on the global stage.

By the time the Lions arrive that could all change, or the likes of youngsters Nathan Charles and Ben Whitaker, or the even younger duo of Hugh Roach and Siliva Siliva could be serious challengers. But those four in particular are long shots and Moore is the definite front runner.

The most likely contenders for Moore’s starting spot:

Saia Faingaa – a Super 15 winner with the Reds earlier this year, the Wallabies have high hopes for Faingaa. Having skippered Australia U19s to World Championship success in 2006, Faingaa’s career had faltered somewhat before a breakthrough year in 2010. The now 24-year-old featured in 11 Tests that year and has been a regular squad member ever since his international debut against Fiji in Canberra. He has stepped in for Moore on numerous occasions but hasn’t managed to yet overtake him as the Wallabies’ No1 No2. With his twin brother Anthony currently starting at outside centre for the Wallabies and younger sibling Colby establishing himself as the Brumbies’ first-choice openside, there could even be three Faingaa family members lining up against the Lions in 2013.

Tatafu Polota-Nau – the man who took over the hooking berth in Moore’s absence against the Irish earlier this month, Polota-Nau was the IRB U21 Player of the Season in 2005. He made his Wallaby debut that same year, prior to even playing Super 15 rugby. Injuries have stalled his career and he was forced to miss most of the 2010 international season after an ankle operation. His ability in the loose is seen to outwieigh Moore’s own talents but his lack of consistency at the lineout often lets him down, just as it did against Ireland.

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Tatafu Polota-Nau is a stiff challenger to Moore's hooking spot
 
Nathan Charles– one of 40 players called up to the Wallabies’ end of year tour training squad in 2010, Charles missed out on the final 36 that headed to Europe that autumn. He has since been involved in a battle for the hooking berth at Western Force with Whitaker and Siliva – a battle that could be replicated on the international stage by the time the Lions arrive Down Under. A cystic fibrosis sufferer, the 22-year-old is currently getting an early taster of British rugby after signing a short-term deal with Gloucester.

Ben Whittaker – first choice for the Force last season at the age of just 21, Whitaker looks set to have a bright future ahead of him despite not having been a major star of the Australian youth ranks. If he continues his progress next season and beyond, the Wallabies’ penchant for youth could well see him win his first cap sooner rather than later.

Siliva Siliva – the third of the 2011 Force trio looking to step up to senior Wallaby colours, 19-year-old Siliva is leaving Perth and heading to Canberra in 2012. The current Australia U20s hooker will be battling it out with Moore on the Super Rugby scene with the Brumbies and if he can unseat the veteran for his franchise, a similar outcome could soon follow with his country.

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