Wallabies backrower Michael Hooper has sped through his career milestones but he admits this season has thrown up a new curveball for him.
Hooper has had to deflect criticism from one of Australia’s most high profile former coaches in Bob Dwyer, along with the added responsibility of the permanent Waratahs captaincy.
Hooper said it was hard to ignore Dwyer’s criticism but found solace in the backing of his coaches and the belief within himself that perspective is never black and white.
“At the end of the day, rugby’s grey,” he said.
“The fact is it’s subjective, everyone has an opinion, everyone sees the position play differently and sees how they would like the position played.
“So,I just roll with what I know I need to do on the field and what my game is and what I need to bring to hopefully and potentially be a part of this team.”
While still only 24, it’s hard for Hooper to stake a claim as a next generation player, having raced to 50 Tests in barely four seasons, but it doesn’t worry him.
“It’s part and parcel (of life). You can’t be the young pup all the time,” he said.
“I’m enjoying being where I’m at at the moment, enjoying playing the rugby I’m playing so for me everything’s a learning curve, a learning experience,” he said.
“While it’s not always been smooth sailing, it’s been exciting at the same time and always a challenge.
“You’ve got to find what works for you and what gets you through.
“Every year you cop new things or there’s things going on, every player has to deal with it.
“I think you’ve just got to find what works for you and what keeps you motivated and to do well.
And asked what his coping mechanism is, Hooper had a simple answer albeit, given the intensity with which he approaches matches, a not altogether surprising one.
“I just love playing rugby in Australia and love being in the competition,” he said.
“You just want to play more and more minutes and be able to do things on the field.
“It’s not a (specific) goal that drives me. I love playing in the jersey, I love being in this part of my life, doing what I’m doing so you just want to keep that going.”
Among a relatively fresh Wallabies squad, which could give up to seven players their Test debuts, Hooper welcomed a new dose of diversity, an element coach Michael Cheika goes to lengths to embrace.
“Everyone’s story is different, that’s what’s unique about the team, that’s what Cheik pushes is to bring your story to the team and make it worthwhile,” he said.
“For me I just want to be there and keep experiencing this ride.”
Tasting success in the most immediate part of his journey might be a little more delicious, with family bragging rights riding on a win against England, as well as a storied international rivalty.
“I guess individually my family’s got some English heritage there so there’s always a bit of banter with my dad’s side of the family even though they go for the Wallabies when they play,” he said.
“They’re all living in England.
“I haven’t played England out here.
“I’ve seen what happens teams like England come out, with the Ashes, and everyone gets behind it and there’s so many Poms living out here because of the sun and the weather and it’s fantastic.”