Rocky Dan Elsom
Age 28 (14 February 1983)
Position Blindside flanker
Weight 17st 8lb
Height 6ft 6in
Australia caps 64
Australia points 60 (12 tries)
He’s a man who hates losing and leads by example, so Rocky Elsom will do all he can to make the Wallabies world champions for a third time. By Katie Field
As the Elsoms welcomed their baby boy into the world on Valentine’s Day in 1983, they might have chosen a suitably romantic name for him – Romeo, perhaps. Instead, they opted for Rocky.
I’ve no idea if they were fans of the iconic boxing films, or whether they had an altogether different reason for their choice. However, it turned out to be spot on, as their bouncing baby became one of Australian rugby’s great warriors. Fast-forward 26 years and Elsom became Wallabies captain. Robbie Deans chose him to lead the squad in the 2009 November Internationals because he is a charismatic battler who inspires people to follow his example.
“Watch him play,” said Deans. “He loves playing the game. He likes to win. He embraces that challenge. People gravitate to him and follow blokes like that. His location on the field (at blindside) we believe will be beneficial in terms of his ability to marshall the troops, but also communicate with referees. Look at the way he plays. He initiates. He’s smart. He’s got the ability to think beyond the moment.”
For his part, Elsom was thrilled. “I’m ecstatic. It’s like when you get your first jersey. You’re over the moon to have that opportunity. Responsibility also goes with that. Some of the best things you can do as a captain is just your actions. It’s a young group. Keeping everyone’s focus on the job is important. You create an environment of really high standards and guys get used to doing the right thing and everyone is going to prosper.”
Elsom has already achieved much in his career – 60-plus Test caps and the Heineken Cup for starters – but now he faces the challenge of leading his nation into a World Cup on the soil of their bitterest rivals, New Zealand. Having seen the team underachieve in 2007 and lose in the 2003 final, Australian fans are desperate for World Cup success and Elsom will be a key figure if their wishes are to come true.
A pupil of one of Australia’s major rugby schools, Nudgee College in Brisbane, Elsom was earmarked for stardom from an early age as he played for Australia U16 and Schoolboys. In his late teens he switched to rugby league, playing for the Bulldogs in Australia’s NRL in 2001-02, but he was soon back in union and added Australia U21 to his honours.
Signed by the Waratahs, the flanker became one of their most consistent performers in Super Rugby and on 11 June 2005 he was rewarded with his first Australia cap, playing blindside in the 74-7 win over Samoa and scoring a try.
By RWC 2007 he was an established member of the team and while the tournament didn’t go to plan, England knocking the Wallabies out in the quarter-finals, Elsom’s career continued on an upward spiral. He took the Waratahs to the 2008 Super Rugby final and then flew north to Dublin where he starred for Leinster as they won the 2009 Heineken Cup. Brian O’Driscoll said: “I’d say he’s the best player I’ve ever played with and I’ve played with many good players.”
Former England hooker Brian Moore wrote in his Daily Telegraph column: “Rarely is it the case that a single forward can indisputably be said to have been the decisive factor between two teams; in the case of Elsom, this can’t be seriously gainsaid about any of the knockout stages of this tournament.”
Despite his success in Europe, Elsom’s desire to return to the Test arena prompted him to return home in June 2009. “Playing for the Wallabies is my No 1 priority,” he said. Elsom has since been at the heart of all that is good about Australia, adding mongrel to the pack and leading a bunch of talented youngsters through the minefield of their introductions to Test rugby.
A hamstring injury has limited Elsom’s game time in 2011, but while his body has been a concern, his mindset is never a problem. As Wayne Smith, of The Australian, writes: “No player enjoys losing but some cope with it better than others. Elsom isn’t one of them. He hates losing… but, unlike some players who only rage against defeat after the event, Elsom rages at it while it’s still merely an annoying possibility, while there is still time to do something about it. And at that point he applies his head as well as his heart.”
This article appeared in Part 1 of our Rugby World Cup Supplement.
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