Hooper says 'Back to the Future' strategy increasing competition within Wallabies squad

The Rugby Championship
by Emma Greenwood

Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has backed Australia's 'Back to the Future' strategy, saying competition within the squad is the best driver of performance.

James O'Connor and Luke Jones will return for the Wallabies off the bench against Argentina tomorrow night after ending their overseas stints to link with Super Rugby clubs in the hope of again playing for Australia.

O'Connor, who left English Premiership club Sale with a year remaining on his contract to join the Reds in a bid to make the World Cup squad, will play his first game in a gold jersey in 2140 days, while Jones, who played with the Rebels this season after returning from France, has had 1701 days between Wallabies games.

They join Nic White (1435 days), who made his return against South Africa last week after stints in France and England.

And it's not just players returning from overseas who are winding back the clock.

 

While Christian Lealiifano has waged a courageous battle against illness since his last Wallabies appearance, he missed selection for the 2015 World Cup and last played a Test in 2016, while Brumbies teammate James Slipper had 1020 days between appearances before making his comeback last week.

Hooper understood there would be debate around the veterans' return over blooding younger players.

“We can talk about that for ages," he said.

"I think creating competition is the best thing for Australian rugby. Having multiple guys that can play in multiple positions across the field can’t be a bad thing in my opinion.

“There’s got to be a way that’s done and handled by Rugby Australia but right now it’s creating nothing but good competition within our team.”

That was on show when coach Michael Cheika and his selectors made several changes after last week's loss to South Africa in a bid to ensure those putting their hand up get the chance to prove themselves.

 

"What's important about a World Cup is having a squad - you're going to have injuries and rotations - so having a team or group to come in at different times (and perform) is critical for us," Hooper said.

"How we've done it this week is a really good starting point of what the year could look like. Guys have moved into starting positions this week and it's been pretty seamless.

"It's about building a squad going forward. It's be nice for everything to be clicking right now but we don't want it to be clicking straight away, we certainly want to be taking steps forward and gaining momentum for sure but we're not jumping to conclusions after 80 minutes of rugby."

After conceding five tries to the Springboks, Hooper said the chance to play again could not come quickly enough.

"I think we can minimise a lot of those quite easily," he said.

 

"We're playing a different (defensive) system to what we were playing last year and we came undone there a couple of times in Africa.

"It's another week now, another week further into our training and we needed to play an opposition to see where we were at.

"We got exposed a couple of times and on review, there are some system errors that can be cleaned up quite easily and you take out a couple of those tries."

But he knows the Wallabies will face a stern test tomorrow against one of the form sides in world rugby.

"Four years ago we played them in a World Cup semi-final and they've been improving since then, Super Rugby and international," he said.

"They are a real quality side defensively, attacking, they've got threats all over the ground, they're smart operators in their playmaking positions.

"We're expecting a full-on hitout tomorrow and we're excited by that."

The Wallabies host Argentina at Suncorp Stadium, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, LIVE on Network Ten, FOX SPORTS, Kayo Sports  and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.

Buy tickets here.