Wallabies need to bring Bledisloe intensity in Japan

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Wallabies need to make sure they bring Bledisloe intensity regardless of their opposition and that starts in Yokohama on Saturday, captain Michael Hooper says.

Australia had an important victory over New Zealand a fortnight ago,a glimpse of the team's improvements over recent months, in a win defined by gritty defence and seizing opportunities.

This isn’t the same team that defeated the All Blacks, steered by Reece Hodge at 10 as opposed to Bernard Foley, and Will Genia also missing, with the backline reshuffle putting Kurtley Beale at fullback.

Facing a Japan side ranked 11 in the world would seem like a relatively straightforward task for the third-ranked Wallabies, but Japan have their own threats as well, with Rebels' no. 8 Amanaki Mafi teaming up with captain Michael Leitch in the backrow and fullback Kotaro Matsushima a danger in attack.

Hooper said the Wallabies' challenge was ensuring they didn't drop their level after the Bledisloe Test win, regardless of who they were facing.

“That’s probably the growth for this squad, growth for this team is being able to play that level against everyone and respecting every opposition with that level of intent,” he said.

“So, we have to come out, it doesn’t matter what colour jersey we’re playing, we’ve got to treat it the same way.”

Hooper said Hodge had embraced his new role this week, after Foley withdrew with illness, not afraid to take the lead in training.

“His ability to adapt’s been terrific and (to) just get on with it, head down and work,” he said.

“I’ve been really impressed with how he’s taken to this challenge this week.

“I’m sure he’ll do good things. He doesn’t need a perfect game but right place, right time that’s all you can ask.

“Cheik’s been pushing that way over the last couple of months for (if) this occasion does arise to be up and it’s a good chance, good opportunity for not only him but the squad.”

It’s fitting in a way that Australia’s depth will be tested in Japan, with Hodge and lock Matt Philip in a surprise debut, at the venue of the 2019 Rugby World Cup final - a match that is the culmination a tournament so often decided by players on the fringes, rather than superstars.

“It is (Spring Tour) four weeks in a row so there’s going to be a bit going on with bodies and injuries and that anyway,” Hooper said.

“You hope for the best but it’s rugby and as we’ve seen this week with those two (Hodge and Philip) it can change really quick.

“That’s what this squad needs - in two years’ time we’re playing in a World Cup here and the depth of our squad’s going to be critical.”

The Wallabies only arrived in Japan on Wednesday, with many of the squad playing against the Barbarians, but Hooper said that hadn’t hurt the squad, with the week similar to a Super Rugby preparation.

“Luckily most of the teams have done this through playing the Sunwolves,” he said.

“I know with the Waratahs we’ve had the exact same week as we’ve had this week. You roll in, you have a day off and you can get stuck into it.

“We had so many moving parts in that Barbarians week that the ability to get here a bit later... was a really good process and now we’re together for the next three-and-a-half weeks and couldn’t be happier.”

The Wallabies take on Japan on Saturday November 4, kicking off at 2:40pm local, 4:40pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS.