Joe Moody has become a cult hero in the last few years showing a healthy desire to observe old school ways.
FROM BEING A VIRTUAL UNKNOWN AT THE CRUSADERS, JOE MOODY HAS BECOME AN ALL BLACKS CULT FAVOURITE AND WE HAVEN’T SEEN THE BEST OF HIM YET.
It took a while for the whole Joe Moody business to make sense. He sneaked into the All Blacks in 2014 and he was one of those selections that the coaches had to sell.
They had been watching him closely for a few years, seeing things in his game that they liked. But no one else had noticed him.
That’s sometimes the way with props: they aren’t always easy to assess. Half the time, more probably, who really knows what the big men are doing out there?
They spend so long with their heads buried in scrums or at the bottom of rucks that it’s easy to forget they are playing. And if they are noticeable, regularly on the ball or hanging around waiting for it, that’s a bad sign.
The uninitiated may love it: whoop and holler when they see a 125kg beast running at full tilt, but that sort of stuff often makes selectors nervous that this showboating carry-on is being carried out instead of core chores.
HE’S A FORMER NEW ZEALAND WRESTLER SO HE’S GOT REALLY GOOD UNDERSTANDING OF HIS BODY MOVEMENTS AND SCRUMMAGING IS A LOT ABOUT THAT.’ STEVE HANSEN
It is, then, impossibly difficult sometimes to keep track of all the props who regularly feature in Super Rugby. And that’s maybe the other thing, there are more props playing Super Rugby than there are players in any other position.
That’s how it is when teams have to carry an entire replacement front-row on their bench and then a few spares in the squad.
Moody didn’t pop up in the June series against England in 2014. He wasn’t picked in the 31-man squad, which, given he was uncapped and had never featured for the All Blacks, shouldn’t have been any kind of surprise or signal of anything at all.
Except Moody’s situation was slightly different. He’d actually been named in the All Blacks’ 36-man tour group that to Japan and Europe at the end of 2013.
No one really had time to notice or ask who he was then because just a few days after he was named, he broke his leg playing for Canterbury against Wellington.
If he’d made it to Europe that year then it could all have been different but as quickly as he flashed up on the screen he disappeared, almost as if there had been a computer glitch rather than a genuine selection.
That was that, dream over and the fact he barely managed any game time for the Crusaders in 2014 and missed selection for the series against England, it felt like he was in danger of being a trivia question – the man who was picked but never played for the All Blacks.
Partly fueling that belief was the proximity of the World Cup. The All Blacks had one of the most experienced and best looseheads in Tony Woodcock, who was a rock solid certainty to make it to England in 2015. They also had the ultra-reliable Wyatt Crockett to back him up.
The All Blacks never stop looking for players but with less than 18 months until the World Cup, it didn’t seem likely that they were going to invest heavily in an untried player such as Moody.
Which probably would have been the case had it not been for a serious injury incurred by Woodcock in the series against England, which ruled him out for the remainder of the year and well into the first part of 2015 as well.
The net had to be cast wider for the Rugby Championship and the selectors had no hesitation calling in Moody whom they had never lost faith.
He was 25 at the time, a bit part performer at the Crusaders where he job shared with Crockett and while he made his debut off the bench against the Wallabies, it wasn’t until he started against the Boks at Ellis Park in October that the spotlight fell fully on him.
Who the hell was he anyway? Where had he been and why were the selectors prepared to start him in the toughest venue in world rugby against the old enemy?
“He’s a former New Zealand wrestler so he’s got really good understanding of his body movements and scrummaging is a lot about that,” explained All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
“He is immensely strong. He’s pretty raw. We picked him of course to take him on the end of year tour last year and he broke his ankle. He’s probably not as advanced as we thought he would have been had he gone on that tour and played most of Super Rugby. But he’s certainly a rough diamond. Someone who we think has got a big future.
“He’s handled everything so far. He’s got an attitude that says he wants to be there. He wants to be the best. That will take time but once you have got that attitude and you work hard which he is, then you
HE GOT AN OPPORTUNITY THROUGH INJURY AND HAD A MASSIVE PART TO PLAY IN OUR LATTER GAMES. HE CEMENTED HIMSELF AS THE NO 1 LOOSEHEAD AT THAT TOURNAMENT.’ STEVE HANSEN
are halfway there. He’s not taking it for granted, that’s for sure.”
It was a stunning reference, but after 45 minutes in which the All Blacks had played poorly and their scrum had struggled, Moody was taken off and it was hard to equate Hansen’s words with what had been delivered.
Moody played three more tests that year and not once did he give the impression that he had a big future.
If Moody’s test future was uncertain by the time he came home from Europe in late 2014, it wasn’t six months later.
Like many before him who had come home from their first November tour with the All Blacks, Moody treated himself to a good summer. Those who tour have to take greater self-responsibility for their off-season management. They need to rest, but so too do they need to get through a bit of hard training on their own to ensure that when they do return to their team set-up, they are in prime condition.
Moody, when he reported for duty with the Crusaders in late January, did not impress coach Todd Blackadder.
At 1.88m Moody played throughout 2014 at about 119kg. He was plenty heavier than that when he came back to Super Rugby and the Crusaders’ conditioning staff were clear – Moody wasn’t fit enough.
As a consequence his game time was limited in 2015, which created that vicious cycle of his fitness not improving and his form deteriorating.
From six months earlier being touted as a player with a big future, Moody suddenly had the look of yet another front-row mishap.
There have been a few in the last decade – props who the selectors have raved about one minute, tried to forget all about the next.
There was Saimone Taumoepeau in 2004 who fizzled as fast as he arrived. Campbell Johnstone back in 2005 was touted as having the best right shoulder in the land, which he may have done, but no one was sure why or even if that was relevant.
Clarke Dermody and John Schwalger were other short-lived All Blacks, as was Jamie Mackintosh.
Moody, back in mid-2015, added to the perception that prop is a position with a higher miss than hit rate.
There was no surprise, then, when Moody didn’t make the World Cup squad. The places went to Crockett, Woodcock and the versatile Ben Franks.
Moody would be watching the World Cup from New Zealand and he knew he couldn’t complain. Not that he had a great deal of time to feel sorry for himself because Woodcock tore his hamstring against Tonga in the final pool game.
Moody was called up and put straight on the bench for the quarterfinal against France and such is often the way in World Cups, the man dragged from nowhere is
unexpectedly thrust into battle.
Crockett’s groin was damaged after half an hour and on came Moody. Suddenly he had the chance to re-write history. To change the direction of his career narrative and put the last two years behind him.
If ever there was a time to back the faith of the selectors that night in Cardiff was it and Moody was sensational.
He slipped on as if he was always meant to have been there and he showed up everywhere. The game was played at an incredible pace, with relentless physicality and there was Moody in the thick of it, memorably producing a Sonny Bill Williams-style offload with a few minutes left to send Tawera Kerr-Barlow in for his second try on the night.
That was the start of his new beginning and Moody has been on an upward trajectory ever since. He embedded himself in the All Blacks No 1 jersey for the remainder of the World Cup and then did the same at the Crusaders the following year.
By November 2016 he was easily the best loosehead in the country and on the eve of the test against Ireland in Chicago, Hansen felt moved to say: “He’s been a big mover since he didn’t get picked in the World Cup. We had a conversation and clearly he was disappointed but he wasn’t fit enough.
“That was the only reason he didn’t get picked initially. He went away and worked hard on that. He got an opportunity through injury and had a massive part to play in our latter games. He cemented himself as the No 1 loosehead at that tournament. He’s come back and continued to work hard and his fitness is still good. With Wyatt coming off the bench there’s a good combo there.”
On hearing Hansen’s comments, Moody replied: “I was well aware last year I wasn’t where I needed to be with my fitness. So I went away and worked on that. After all our training sessions I was doing extra running stuff and extra conditioning to get to where I needed to be.”
Moody has done more than establish himself in the All Blacks in the last two years. He’s become a world class player, too, and more importantly, he’s become a bit of a cult hero. The phrase old school just about sums him up. He’s a farm boy who doesn’t seem to be in danger of taking himself too seriously.
It’s maybe the fact that he’s known adversity, failed to do himself justice and paid the price for it in the
ROCK SOLID Joe Moody has proven his value as a world class scrummager.
BAD BREAK Moody suffered a nasty shoulder injury in September last year.