Respect earned Hooper Wallabies captaincy

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman


That’s what leadership means to Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and it’s that which made Michael Hooper a straightforward choice to succeed Stephen Moore.

“When you're asked to be in a leadership position I'd say the biggest prerequisite is respect,” he said.

“That’s not just (from) the players in the team, I'd say all players in Australian rugby, club, right down through juniors, they respect MIchael Hooper, the way he plays the game and the way he stands up for his colours and for his values is really quite exceptional and I think that's what made him the standout choice.

“When I go with my kids to their junior rugby, you ask the kids who their favourite player are, 7/10 it's Hooper.

“He played his club rugby at Manly, where his dad played and where his brother played and (he’s got) the respect through the Shute Shield in Sydney and right through.

“He puts out what he says on the field and you can't argue with that, you can't help but respect that.”

Cheika said Hooper’s ability to balance his own performance and bringing the team with him had grown since his first Wallabies captaincy stint in 2014, at the time the youngest captain since Ken Catchpole in 1941.

“He's got empathy for the game,” he said.

“He understands when his team really needs him to come up and make a big play and I think that's what he's getting better at, is understanding.

“He does his work, but then he understands a little bit more now when his team really needs him to come in and make that big play, whether it's in attack or defence and he can start to inspire others as a leader, without diminishing from his own game.

“That's something I've seen him improve year on year, because he was captain a few times at the Waratahs quite young as well so he's been able to manage both of those things and move on.”

Cheika will name Hooper’s deputies on Friday, with Bernard Foley, Adam Coleman, Samu Kerevi and even young prop Allan Alaalatoa impressing in the leadership stakes.

“I see a new breed of player who's starting  to stand up and voice the standard to their teammate and make them accountable for the effort.

“That can sometimes strain relationships but that's what it's all about.

“There's friendship and there's respect. I see that starting to happen now and a bunch of younger players and that's a very good sign for us because that's what we need to do, we need to make ourselves accountable for the standards, no excuses.”

Hooper will be the man to lead the Wallabies to the 2019 World Cup, Cheika said on Wednesday, as the national side truly begins to turn its view towards that tournament, a move that adds more intrigue to the return of David Pocock in 2018.

Cheika showed in June he isn’t afraid to make the tough call on his captain, benching Stephen Moore for two of the three mid-year Tests, but that seems unlikely for Hooper, who has started in all but six of his 68 Wallabies Tests.

“It’s not like those two guys haven't been in the same squad before and right now, David's off having time off so he'll have to come back in, earn his stripes, get himself back into the side,” he said.

“He can do many things around not just leadership within the team but also what his talent is as a footballer as well.

“I don't see any type of issue with that combination of players whatsoever.”

Cheika will name a 33-man Rugby Championship squad on Friday ahead of the August 19 Bledisloe Cup opener.

The Wallabies take on the All Blacks on August 19, kicking off at 8pm AEST LIVE on FOX SPORTS. Buy tickets here.