PHOTO CREDIT: REUTERS/JASON O’BRIEN
(Reuters) – The Wallabies captaincy is fast becoming the most unwanted job in world rugby after Stephen Moore, the latest player to be given the role, was ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering a serious knee injury against France.
Named Australia’s new skipper less than a week ago, the 92-cap hooker had barely taken to the field in the series-opening test against Les Bleus in Brisbane on Saturday before rupturing anterior cruciate and medial ligaments when making a tackle in the first minute.
Scans later confirmed the 31-year-old stalwart would need a knee reconstruction, continuing a grim record of season-ending injuries dubbed the ‘captain’s curse’ Down Under.
“The whole year is gone … he’s obviously shattered,” Australia coach Ewen McKenzie told local reporters on Sunday, the injury a dreadful sting in the tale after the Wallabies’ buoyant 50-23 demolition of France at Lang Park.
“It leaves a bit of a void because we had put a lot of things in the pipeline.”
Moore’s loss revives grisly memories of 2012, when captain James Horwill (hamstring), then replacements David Pocock (knee) and Will Genia (knee), were blighted by serious injuries after being appointed by former coach Robbie Deans.
The failed knee is particularly galling for Moore, a soft-spoken but popular choice for captain who had been a mainstay in Australia’s front row for the best part of a decade.
“I’m going to need some surgery to repair my ACL/MCL,” Moore said on Twitter on Sunday. “Will get it fixed up and look to go again.”
Moore was also McKenzie’s third captain in quick succession after he dumped Horwill from the role on their season-ending tour of Europe last year and replaced him with loose forward Ben Mowen.
Mowen was not considered for the squad this season, having elected to pursue his rugby career overseas at the finish of the ongoing Super Rugby season.
The captaincy is now likely to fall to one of Moore’s two deputies named last week in seasoned utility back Adam Ashley-Cooper and openside flanker Michael Hooper.
Hooper led the side with aplomb after Moore limped off only minutes into the France match, and though only 22, is favoured to take the reins for the rest of the series and season — if, indeed, he wants them.
“Hooper set for Wallabies’ poisoned chalice” was the Australian Associated Press’s pithy take on the matter, a typical view from a freshly superstitious local rugby media.
McKenzie gave Hooper a glowing endorsement. “He has a style about (captaincy) that I respect,” said the former test prop.
“It didn’t affect his playing, he played exceptionally well and that’s part of it too.
“I can’t think of many players who play as consistently well as he does. I don’t think I’ve seen him have an off day. He fronts up and is in every game.
“He’s a lead-by-example sort of guy and highly respected in the playing group – they’re all good attributes.” Tatafu Polota-Nau, who acquitted himself well in the front row in Moore’s absence, is likely to be promoted to starting hooker for the second test in Melbourne on Saturday.
In an ironic twist, Sam Carter, the test debutant who shut lock James Horwill out of the starting side, will miss the rest of the series, opening the door for the former skipper’s reinstatement.
Carter sustained a high ankle strain early in the match, McKenzie confirmed, but played through the pain to be named man-of-the-match.
“He did it in the seventh minute, that really gives you an idea how tough the bloke is,” McKenzie said.
“He showed great resilience and (the injury) didn’t show up in his performance at all … It was terrific courage.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington and Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing bySudipto Ganguly)