Monday 23 April 2018

Positive outlook in Moore's almanac

Wasps tighthead happy that move cross-channel won't cut him adrift from Ireland set-up

Marty Moore: ‘There was no bad blood between myself and the IRFU, and Joe Schmidt was incredibly helpful. He could have given me the cold shoulder, and I have to respect him for not doing that'. Photo: Getty
Marty Moore: ‘There was no bad blood between myself and the IRFU, and Joe Schmidt was incredibly helpful. He could have given me the cold shoulder, and I have to respect him for not doing that'. Photo: Getty
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

A recent article on Wasps' new tighthead opened with the following sentence: "Ireland prop Marty Moore had no second thoughts when he was offered a deal by Wasps and is confident that the experience gained playing in the Aviva Premiership will stand to him in the future at international level."

There you go. Let's deal with the last bit first. The notion of enhancing your Ireland career by moving across the water is like suggesting that a crap website is good for attracting new business.

There is no specific regulation on this area in the IRFU's handbook, but neither is there any ambiguity: taking yourself off this island shifts you either out of the international picture altogether, or to its margins. The lessons learned over there may indeed make you a better player, but getting to prove that in green will require injuries to others to open the door.

As for the first bit, that once Moore's mind was made up his mind was, well, made up - this contradicts directly the heavy spin coming from the IRFU at the time of his leaving last season. In a nutshell, that spin revolved on the axis of Moore having second, third and fourth thoughts about what he had signed. And that if somehow he could wriggle his substantial frame out of it, and back into the loving arms of Leinster and Ireland, then he'd be a happy man.

So, what does the man himself have to say on these subjects?

"There will be times when (international) selection is an issue - and obviously it hadn't happened yet - and I didn't play a lot of rugby towards the end of last year. But I'd rather be here at the club and be playing at what I think will be a higher level for me personally, improving my game. I'll take my chances with whatever decision they want to make.

"If I'm playing well enough to start in the Premiership, and being what I hope is a better player than I would have been back home, it's out of my hands. It's everyone's dream to play for your country, and I've been lucky enough to do that. At the same time I'm 25 years old; I've signed a three year contract here; I could be here for three years - I could be here for 10. Or in three years if all I want to do is play for Ireland, I can make that decision then. But for right now I want to be playing for Wasps, and I want to be playing under Dai Young."

Sounds like his head is straight on that one. And the spin that the ink wasn't dry on the contract but he was looking to erase it? Moore recalls a conversation he had with Young, very early the courting process.

"It was just the usual, you'd think: a phone call to see what the situation was and get to know what the club were looking for. Those type of calls would usually be 20 minutes I suppose and with Dai it was an hour and a half/two hours. And even though he wasn't my coach then, he was good enough to give me a few pointers about my game. That stood to me well going into the next few games with Leinster. I think from that moment on, my mind was set that that was the move I wanted to make. It was where I could become the best rugby player.

"That was my gut feeling: that I wanted to play my rugby at Wasps. Then the contract thing came into it (the public domain). It became, I suppose, something more than it was. It wasn't something I was looking at. It was a done deal, signed off, and I think a bit of spin was put on things to make it look more dramatic at the time. There was no bad blood between myself and the IRFU, and Joe Schmidt was incredibly helpful.

"Obviously he would have rathered if I played my rugby at Leinster but I had more regard for him helping me through the process and being there to talk when needed. He could have given me the cold shoulder, and I have to respect him for not doing that."

Who says tightheads can't be political animals? That's as good as you could expect from a player trying to wedge the door open for a coach who was, at the time, almost blowing a head gasket that it was closing.

This is only September, typically these days our balmiest month of the year, when pitches are pristine and everyone has a positive outlook on what lies ahead. So it would be early to be signing off on Moore's move to England as a runaway success. For example, a slight niggle in his calf has deprived him of the chance to contribute this afternoon against Bristol as Wasps, after opening with two victories, chase a win that would make this their best start since 2006. "It's annoying, but better safe than sorry," he says. "I'd be happy to play but I'll be fine for Northampton next Saturday."

Moore now lives in the Warwickshire village of Claverdon, a short enough hop from Birmingham Airport and just up the road from both Warwick and Stratford on Avon. His house, he says, backs onto a field. A nice one.

"Real English countryside," according to the man from Leixlip. "It was a big move for lots of reasons, but I'm here with my fiancée Lona now for nine weeks. It's only a while but we've settled so well it seems like we've been here longer. It definitely feels like home at this stage.

"The move over wasn't as hard as I imagined. Some of my friends have relocated to Australia for work reasons so coming across to Birmingham isn't the most logistically challenging. The club made things incredibly easy for us: they have a full-time person working on it and you could pick up the phone at any time night or day to organise viewings or meetings with landlords. It made it a lot easier than doing it on my own."

The 'new club' feel extends to everyone there, not just its latest recruits, given that the operation has shifted lock, stock and barrel up from London, a city whose name was previously incorporated in the club title.

"Yeah, we're not the only ones settling in," Moore says. "Everyone who has moved in has been finding their feet and getting to know people in the area. I think that's brought the squad closer together as a group. We're all more aware of the fact that nobody has real connections here and we need to stick together a little bit. And that's a bonus."

So too is the weekend-away factor his friends and family are going through to follow his career. He has never been short of support on that front, and oddly enough last weekend's victory at Welford Road - Wasps' first bonus point win there since 2008 - was the first time between pre-season and Premiership that he hasn't been entertaining them. It's likely to be the last free weekend like that for him.

The better he goes, the busier the traffic from Dublin/Birmingham/Claverdon. And it's been a decent start. He got 20 minutes off the bench on opening day, against Exeter, and an hour last weekend against Tigers. In both, his side of the scrum looked reassuringly solid.

"It's a massive help that Dai was a tighthead," he says. "Dan Richmond is the forwards/scrum coach and he's come from Sale, but at every live scrum session Dai is standing there, looking over your shoulder. It's amazing to have two guys, one either side of the scrum, and when we come up you can analyse whatever has gone wrong. Just all that feedback during the session, and during the game last week there was constant feedback from the coaches coming from the sideline."

So is there a rotation basis set in stone there?

"No I don't think it will be that. That's another thing that's a little bit different in that you're facing such vastly different teams each week. So like the Exeter week we prepared for a team who don't want to put the ball out of play and want to run the ball at you and break you down that way, whereas Leicester try to enforce themselves physically with field position and territory. So the coaches have spoken to us already about every week being different and they have to pick the best teams for whoever we're playing. Maybe having me here this year gives them an option they didn't have and a few times Jake (Cooper-Woolley) had to play 80 minutes when it wasn't ideal."

Cooper-Woolley and Phil Swainston - neither of them Test players - are his competition in Wasps. Clearly he has the upper hand in experience, with 10 Ireland caps to his name, so you'd imagine fitness will be a huge factor in establishing the pecking order, regardless of horses for courses. A broken bone in his foot, followed by a serious hamstring injury, cost Moore up to 10 caps between the World Cup and last season's Six Nations.

"That was massively disappointing," he says. "The hamstring was nasty and I was back playing good rugby at the time, but it meant that for the first time my body was able to heal and I could look after my fitness. Going into pre-season I felt different to any other year. Most people dread it but it was the opposite for me. It couldn't come soon enough. I'm being rested today with a slight niggle in my calf but I'll be available for next weekend in Northampton."

He's at 119/120 kgs now, which he says is how the scales are supposed to read. From what we've seen so far it's not stopping him getting around the field, battening down the hatch at the scrum, or enjoying himself. Early days, but that opening paragraph might be on the money.

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