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.

NZ Rugby World - - Contents - Gre­gor Paul re­ports.

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.

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