By Lee Stace
COACH MICHAEL Foley’s decision to hand Rocky Elsom the Waratahs captaincy is flawed, as he is simply not up to the task of leading the team at the moment.
There are doubts about whether his body can hold up to the rigorous and physical demands of top-level rugby and he is also coming under increasing pressure from Scott Higginbotham to retain his place in the Wallabies.
After struggling for form and battling injuries during the past two seasons, the 75-test veteran needs to focus on doing everything he can to ensure his own game is in order. Having the heavy responsibility of marshalling the troops is an extra burden he simply does not need in what is shaping as a crucial season for Elsom.
Captains are also meant to lead by example and, on recent form, the 28-year-old has not done that. He is a shadow of the player whom Brian O’Driscoll rated as the best he’d ever played with when Leinster won the Heineken Cup in 2009.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans realised that last year. He turfed Elsom as skipper of the national team in favour of James Horwill days before the Tri Nations decider against the All Blacks.
“As the incumbent captain, he warranted the opportunity to continue in the role, but it has become clear that the additional responsibility has been a distraction that Rocky doesn’t need,” said Deans at the time.
“We all felt it was in the best interest, both of Rocky and of the team, to relieve him of the extra duties…”
Shorn of the captaincy, Elsom played one of his best games in years as the Wallabies annexed the title. It was vintage Elsom: he carried strongly, tackled hard and was a menace at the breakdown.
The Waratahs are hardly short on leaders. Foley recently unveiled an eight-man leadership group – lock Dan Vickerman, hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, prop Benn Robinson, five-eighths Berrick Barnes, inside centre Tom Carter, centre Rob Horne and wing Drew Mitchell are the other members.
Any one of them would have been the better choice.
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.