A leading contender for this year’s John Eales Medal already, after just the four Tests of the 2012 Spring Tour, MICHAEL HOOPER is living proof of the theory that last year’s injury challenge is already having major long-term benefits for the Qantas Wallabies.The 21-year-old, who had debuted off the bench during the June Tests, was thrust into the starting role when injury rubbed out David Pocock following the opening Bledisloe Cup Test of last season. He looks set to continue in the position against the British & Irish Lions and in this year’s Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship with Pocock again sidelined due to a torn ACL in his knee.Hooper’s first run on appearance for his country also represented his first time at the intimidating environment of Eden Park, and his first involvement facing the All Black legend Richie McCaw. It spoke volumes for Hooper’s self-belief that he was undaunted and passed the test with flying colours even though the Qantas Wallabies were well beaten.So well did Hooper grasp his opportunity that he was voted as the team’s internal ‘Man of Gold’ four times by his peers from the nine matches in which he started prior to Pocock’s return in the final Test of the year in Cardiff, while winning the internal ‘Player of the Tour’ award for the four-Test Spring trip. Hooper was also man of the match during Australia’s significant 20-14 win at Twickenham, as English fans rued the one that got away, given that the Qantas Wallabies’ star had been eligible for the Red Rose via his English-born father Chris.Excellence through the Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship and the Spring Tour was just a continuation of the form that Hooper had shown when he first entered the Test arena, having given a strong indicator of his ability to cope with the demands of the best during last June’s Castrol EDGE Wales Tour. After enduring the disappointment of a Test defeat against Scotland during his debut match at Newcastle, Hooper bounced back by making a telling contribution off the bench during Australia’s critical 27-19 win over Wales in the first Test of what proved to be a clean sweep of the Six Nations champions.Hooper’s emergence, and that of fellow 2012 rookie Liam Gill, couldn’t have come at a better time given the injuries to Pocock, who had shouldered a heavy burden after George Smith’s international retirement in 2010. Prior to last year’s injury in the Bledisloe Cup opener, Pocock had missed just three of the previous 32 Tests played by the Wallabies.Hooper has his nose in front of Gill in the national rankings for now, continuing to add to his status in Super Rugby with the NSW Waratahs, after having been a star for the Brumbies last year.The 2012 competition is Hooper’s third, but his first as a regular starter, and sees him regularly topping the tackle counts while also proving one of the competition’s best ball scavengers. It is perhaps the ultimate compliment to Hooper’s work in Canberra that the Brumbies needed to bring in his two immediate predecessors in the Wallabies Test number seven jersey – Pocock and Smith, to replace him!Denied a shot at the Australian Schools side due to the requirement for shoulder surgery in his final year, Hooper was still snapped up by the Brumbies and slotted into the Brumby Runners development programme in his first year out of school. His position on the club’s ‘development’ roster didn’t last long. The 18-year-old had only been in Canberra a few months when he was pushed into his Super Rugby debut during a win against the Chiefs at home in 2010. He was then included in the Australian Under-20s for the first time later that year but had the misfortune to miss the World Championships in Argentina after injuring his ankle in a warm up game prior to the team’s departure.Hooper bounced back from that disappointment to provide one of the few positives of an otherwise ordinary Brumbies campaign in his second Super Rugby season, winning a second call up to the Australian Under-20s for the tournament in northern Italy. Although Australia missed out on a place in the final and had to settle for third, Hooper excelled, which was recognized by his Under-20 Player of the Year award at that year’s John Eales Medal.He was an award winner again at last year’s ceremony, collecting the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award.Fast Fact: When Michael Hooper made his debut for the Brumbies in 2010 standing in for an injured George Smith, it represented the first Super rugby appointment that the Qantas Wallabies centurion had missed in 60 games, and only the second time that Smith had not worn the number seven jersey across 126 games for the Brumbies since he had debuted in 2000.
Web Toolbar by Wibiya
21 MAY 2013