Jones return highlights selectors' World Cup headache: Hooper

The Rugby Championship
by Emma Greenwood

Captain Michael Hooper says the international return of backrower Luke Jones has only highlighted the difficulty Wallabies selectors face in choosing their World Cup squad.

Jones will don the gold jersey for the first time since 2014 when the Wallabies take on Argentina at Suncorp Stadium tonight, after a stellar super Rugby season with the Rebels following his return from France meant he could not be ignored by national selectors.

The 28-year-old's return has gone under the radar somewhat in a week in which former bad boy James O'Connor makes his return to the national fold and Christian Lealiifano caps an inspirational journey from illness to starting flyhalf.

But Hooper heaped praise on the workaholic forward, who is sure to create headaches for coach Michael Cheika and fellow selectors Scott Johnson and Michael O'Connor.

The Rebels had a brutal honesty session ahead of their game against the Reds. Photo: Getty Images

"That's the way he goes about his stuff. Unbridled, relentless work. Some of the numbers he’s producing for the Rebels is crazy, each week as well," Hooper said.

“He’s a big frame, which is pretty critical in his position and in Test rugby.

“To have a guy that can put out some of the numbers that he can, play a couple of positions - he’s got the hard job of covering a couple of positions this weekend – is great to have back in the squad."

That size has not been lost on Argentinian captain and flanker Pablo Matera, whose vaunted backrow will take on Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Hooper and Isi Naisarani, with Jones to come off the bench into the back row or at lock.

 

“I think nowadays they have bigger guys than us, really heavy players and strong and physical players so it's going to be hard," Matera said.

"But that's the game we like, a physical game and more direct so I think we're going to be okay."

Hooper has formed one half of the Wallabies most reliable backrow partnership of the past decade with David Pocock, who is on the way back from a calf injury.

But the back-row depth - Reds rookie Liam Wright was also taken to South Africa last week as part of an expanded squad - and the strong debut of Naisarani last week could spell the end of the "Pooper" combination.

 

"You look at the stats last year, Poey was head and shoulders above everyone else in the world as far as on-ball, so it's going to be pretty handy having him back as well," Hooper said of Pocock.

“On a broader note, the selections the coaches are having in those areas, the 4/5/6 and broader back row, is so hard. The competition and guys putting up the hands is crazy.

“Jack (Dempsey) misses out this week but Jonesy gets an opportunity this week. I’m excited to see what he can do. It’s been four, five years since he’s put on the jersey so he’s stinging to get on."

The Wallabies themselves are stinging after last week's loss and Hooper said the pack was keen to play again after a solid hitout last week.

"It's great to have another opportunity with some of the guys out there, build some continuity in those positions," he said.

 

"I was impressed by a lot of our forwards last week. We had a good lineout, improved lineout from years gone by, didn't let a mauling try in against a quality mauling side, so certainly some nice points there.

"But clearly some stuff to work on too. This game couldn't have come around quick enough."

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.