Wallabies' openside debate more intriguing than ever

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Michael Hooper’s current and former teammates have leaped to his defence in the wake of criticism over his 2016 form.

Former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer labelled Hooper the worst of the opensides in the Australian Super Rugby teams based on current form, calling his Test credentials into question.

Wallabies captain Stephen Moore leaped to Hooper’s defence after the Brumbies clash with the Waratahs and Hooper’s former teammate Stephen Hoiles joined the chorus on Monday.

Hoiles said Hooper was being unfairly criticised because he isn’t a traditional pilfering number seven, though outperformed his counterparts in other areas.

“Michael isn’t a typical number seven,” he said on rugby.com.au.

“That’s one of the issues and it was great to see Stephen Moore back him up.

Wallabies Captain and Vice Captain. Stephen Moore and Michael Hooper at the Rugby World Cup. Photo: Getty Images“If you’re talking numbers of stealing footballs and disruption of breakdown we know that’s not Michael Hooper’s game but there’s no better seven in Australian Rugby when it comes to running in the back line and keeping the play alive.

“He’s the fastest number seven we've got. There’s a place in every Test match and every Super Rugby team for Michael Hooper.

“He’s probably guilty of overplaying his hand at the moment in a ‘Tahs side that’s struggling.

“I dare say put him back in the Wallabies’ seven and he’ll do exactly what he’s done in every Test match he’s ever played.”

Hoiles praised the performances of Hooper’s Super Rugby rivals, in an area of the match where Australia continues to show depth.

“There are plenty of good number Sevens,” he said.

“Jordy Reid, Sean McMahon, they’re playing left and right flankers at the moment, (Liam) Gill’s back hitting field goals from 40 and then you’ve got David Pocock who’s phenomenally strong over the ball.

“In terms of traditional hard on-ballers, Hoops probably isn’t the top one at the moment but in terms of the other stuff he does, no one in Australia with that number on their back can do what he does.

The conversation around the back row all adds up to some pretty intriguing Test discussions.

Liam Gill slotted a drop goal against the Bulls. Photo: Getty Images

1. Liam Gill

Among the unluckiest players in Super Rugby when it comes to timing. In other periods, Gill could easily have racked up Tests for Australia. Led the entire Super Rugby competition in pilfers in 2015 and was a runaway winner of the Reds’ Stan Pilecki Medal in 2015. Would arguably have had the inside run for the Wallabies next season with David Pocock taking a year off, if not for signing with French side Toulon.

2. David Pocock

Very nearly the World Player of the Year, Pocock is the turnover king. Has been instrumental for the Brumbies again this year but a reckless action saw him suspended for three weeks, leaving him out of matches against the Waratahs and Crusaders. Hard to imagine a situation where he could be left out of a Test side.

3. Michael Hooper

Not a traditional on-ball openside but has been one of the best players for his side. A strong ball carrier with incredible endurance, Hooper hits rucks hard and fast. Brings a different element to the number seven, which makes his unconventional combination with David Pocock work so well.

4. Sean McMahon

More like Hooper than Pocock, McMahon is a powerful back rower. The 21-year-old replaced Hooper when he was suspended in the World Cup and set the tone for the Rebels to start the season, taking the interim captaincy in his stride as well.

5. Matt Hodgson

Another who falls into the desperately unlucky club when it comes to timing his Super Rugby career. Has been inspirational for the Force as captain and is currently leading the competition in tackles, having made 103 in just seven matches this season.