My rugby hero: Rocky Elsom

Date published: December 6 2019

During the 2019/20 Champions Cup, we dig through the archives to highlight a hero from a previous tournament. Next up, it’s Rocky Elsom.

Player background

Rocky Dan Elsom was born on 14 February 1983 in Melbourne and was an outstanding back-row who earned 75 caps for the Wallabies. His talent was obvious from an early age and, after making his debut for the Waratahs in Super Rugby, Elsom captained the Australian age-grade side at the 2003 U21 World Cup.

Impressive form at franchise level meant it wasn’t long before the flanker was being called up to the national squad and he duly appeared for the first time in a gold jersey in 2005 against Samoa. Over the next two years, Elsom became a key player for Australia and was an automatic first choice pick for the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

Although that ended in disappointment, with England stunning one of the pre-tournament favourites 12-10 in the quarter-final, Elsom was arguably their best player in France. He continued to perform well in both Super Rugby and at international level over the next four years, although that was interspersed with a season at Leinster.

Following a barnstorming campaign in Ireland which saw the physical and athletic forward help them to their very first Heineken Cup title, Elsom is remembered fondly by those at the RDS. However, he would soon return to Australia and was named captain by head coach Robbie Deans, but was dramatically stripped of the title ahead of the 2011 World Cup. Although the flanker once again impressed in the tournament, it would be the last time the rugby world would see the best of Elsom with injuries hampering the talented back-row.

His rugby moment

Elsom’s form during 2008/09 was utterly remarkable, with the Australian receiving the man of the match award 13 times during that season, but the most prized one came in the Heineken Cup final. At the time, the Irish province were renowned for choking on the biggest stage, despite being awash with talent in the squad, and were in fact labelled ‘ladyboys’ by controversial Irish columnist Neil Francis.

Coincidentally, that term was used by Francis during the European-winning campaign as Michael Cheika’s men struggled to get out of their group. Unperturbed, Leinster reached the knockout stages and showed plenty of resolve to edge past Harlequins 6-5 in a match where the infamous ‘Bloodgate’ scandal took place, before they dominated arch rivals Munster in the last-four. That set up a clash with Leicester Tigers where the ubiquitous Elsom was simply outstanding, playing a huge part in the narrow 19-16 triumph.

The flanker defended stoutly and was exceptional at the set-piece after stealing three Leicester lineouts, but it was his powerful carry that floored the gargantuan Alesana Tuilagi which was memorable. It was usually Tuilagi that sent opponents into reverse and on their backsides but this time he was on the receiving end as Elsom surged down the left and knocked him over. It was an iconic moment and, after just five minutes, set the tone for the rest of the encounter.