Boyish Hooper a leader to respect
Posted on 01/24/19 6:23 PM
For all of its havoc, the Wallabies’ captaincy curse has provided one stroke of good fortune with fresh-faced Michael Hooper appointed skipper.
In 22-year-old surfer dude Hooper, the cash-strapped Australian Rugby Union, battling to sell the 15-man code beyond their grass roots, has a new captain that can capture the imagination.
Blonde locks, boyish charm and a carefree approach to a game that he’s put a huge stamp on within two years of making his Test debut.
And, at the same time, the indestructible flanker has the respect and admiration of old-school rugby fans and the grizzled hard-heads in his Test team.
“For such a young bloke he’s such a mature man,” prop James Slipper said. “He’s well respected within the squad and without a doubt all the boys will jump behind him.
“We already do – it’s not hard to follow a man that always puts his hand up and in the heat of battle always rises to the occasion.
“He’s a lead-by-example type of man and one I enjoy playing behind.
“The harder you go in the game the more respect you receive.”
Despite being the second youngest player in his 32-man squad, coach Ewen McKenzie had no hesitation in elevating Hooper to the captaincy on Monday.
The Manly-raised back-rower is the fourth youngest Australian skipper of all time and the fifth in McKenzie’s 13-Test tenure.
“It’s a fantastic privilege for myself,” Hooper said.
Slipper, 25, was “shocked” to be elevated to the vice-captaincy, with McKenzie confirming Adam Ashley-Cooper would be skipper if another captain went down.
Hooper was quick to concede his ascension was far from ideal, replacing Stephen Moore as the hard-nosed hooker was undergoing a knee reconstruction.
Moore’s blow follows serious injuries suffered by James Horwill (hamstring), David Pocock (knee) and Will Genia (knee) as captains in the past two years.
But the reigning John Eales Medallist has no fear, especially after going through the last three years without injury.
“I’m not sure what all the fuss is about with the curse,” Hooper said.
Neither is he worried about barking orders to teammates nine years his senior.
“Once you play with players and spend a lot of time around the scene you get comfortable with them and they know what you are about,” he said.
Although Moore is set to return in 2015, with only five Tests to play before the World Cup, McKenzie refused to be drawn on the length of Hooper’s appointment.
The NSW Waratah will also have competition from David Pocock for the No.7 jersey when he returns from his second knee reconstruction.
“Given my experience with captaincy and what happened last week, it’s folly to be looking too far ahead,” McKenzie said. “We’ve made the right decision with the right people.”