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26th Dec 2021

“I’ve never seen a player go through a season with as many Man of the Match performances as Rocky Elsom”

Patrick McCarry

Rocky Elsom

“He just knew how to take care of himself.”

One season. 21 games. 21 starts. Six tries. Multiple Man of the Match awards and a Heineken Cup winners’ medal. As one-season wonders go, Rocky Elsom set a high bar.

Back in the autumn of 2008, not long after winning Wallaby of the Year, Elsom landed in Dublin for what would be a one-and-done season with Leinster. Michael Cheika had just won a league title with Leinster but he felt his fellow Aussie could push them over the top in Europe.

When he returned Down Under, nine months later, he had won countless personal accolades [including 14 MOTM awards] and had helped Leinster conquer Europe.

And like that, he was gone again. The 6-foot-6 flanker packed up after his season with Leinster and headed home, swapping the Waratahs for the Brumbies. He was an enigma during his time here – always hard to pin down, aside from match-days – and the legend has only grown over the last dozen years.

SportsJOE sat down with his former Leinster teammates Felipe Contepomi and Brian O’Driscoll to get their thoughts on Rocky.

Rocky Elsom, Brian O’Driscoll, Felipe Contepomi and Gordon D’Arcy celebrate with the Heineken Cup trophy in 2009. (Credit: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE)

Felipe Contepomi on Rocky Elsom.

“He was such a great player. We were talking about diversity, and how you need different guys in a squad. He was definitely one of those players that was outside of the mould.

“He did some things that would not be normal things, to us, and by himself. He would do loads of things, like stretching warm-ups [with bands] or yoga, rather than going to the gym. We were all looking and going, ‘Why does he not have to go [to the gym]?’

“But if he was playing like he was at the weekend, and it worked, then what could you say? I’d say that it was a good job from Michael Cheika, on how to manage him and how to manage the group. Because sometimes you have to have rules that are for everyone, and Rocky would have a few… exceptions!”

Rocky Elsom takes time out during a Leinster training session at UCD before a European tie with Harlequins. He would go on to win Man of the Match in a tight Leinster win. (Credit: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE)

Brian O’Driscoll on Rocky Elsom.

“We were obviously thrilled to get him as a signing,” says O’Driscoll.

“The funny thing that lots of lads would say about Rocky is you didn’t see him training very often, Monday to Wednesday. But, when you’re delivering performances like he was on a Saturday… I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player go through a season with as many Man of the Match performances as him.

“He’d turn up on Thursday and do a bit of stuff. Go along to the captain’s run on a Friday and run through some things, maybe. He just knew how to take care of himself.

“I’m sure he had a good time in Dublin, and did his partying, but he was pretty quiet about it all and would keep himself to himself. He just went about his business well.

“I might not have been picking up on all the small things he was doing, but he did all his talking on the pitch. That’s the reality of it. He didn’t have to say a whole lot. He did talk, occasionally, in the dressing room but when you deliver performances like that, game on game… he was one of the most consistent players I’ve ever come across. That’s an inspiration in itself.”

“It’s a bit like we had with Seanie O’Brien in later years,” he adds, “when you see someone that’s that good in your team, you say to yourself, ‘We’ve got a chance’.”

Rocky Elsom poses with the Man of the Match award after Leinster beat Leicester Tigers in the 2009 Heineken Cup Final at Murrayfield Stadium. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The Elsom Enigma.

Fascinated with Rocky Elsom the player, I have often asked former Leinster and Australia teammates – when they do interviews or appearances on House of Rugby – if they are still in touch with him? Do they have a way of getting in touch.

‘Good luck finding him’, ‘I haven’t heard from him in years’, ‘Rocky? He’s off the grid, mate!’ That’s a gist of the responses from lads that he played [and occasionally] trained with.

Typical of the Elsom Enigma, Leinster held a 10-year reunion, in 2019, to mark the decade passing after their first Heineken Cup win. An invite was made to those Leinster players that were living abroad or had returned to their corners of the globe. Cheika, Stan Wright and Isa Nacewa all made appearances. Elsom?

“It would have been nice to catch up, and chat, at the 10 year thing,” says Contepomi. “But he didn’t come for it.”

Been there. Done that. Got the medal.


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