'The strongest in the past decade': Why Hooper captaincy question is a 'no-brainer'

International
by Christy Doran

In a massive endorsement to the leadership credentials of Michael Hooper, teammate Matt To'omua believes it's a "no-brainer" that the 99-Test stalwart keep the captaincy under new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie.

To'omua's comments have been echoed up by former Wallabies back-rower turned pundit Stephen Hoiles, who described the inspirational flanker as " probably the strongest (leader) we've had over a decade".

Both men prefaced their comments by supporting Rennie's right to put his own stamp on the team and, indeed, the formation of the back-row itself, but believed Hooper's leadership would be vital for Australian rugby moving forward.

Ever since first touching down in Australia in January, New Zealander Rennie has made it clear that form will dictate selection and that he was open-minded over who would captain the Wallabies under his watch.

Hooper first captained Australia as a 22-year-old in 2014 filling in for Stephen Moore and, in doing so, became the youngest Wallabies skipper in half-a-century.

After taking over the captaincy permanently in 2017, the 28-year-old has gone on to lead the Wallabies in 46 Tests and is poised to become the quickest player in Test history to 100 Tests later this year.

But the Wallabies' disappointing quarter-final exit last year and their inconsistency in recent years, which has culminated in the nation dropping to seventh on the World Rugby rankings, has seen Hooper's leadership come under scrutiny, much to the surprise of former teammate Hoiles.

"I just don't think it's justified people questioning that whole 'should he be Wallaby captain?'" Hoiles told RUGBY.com.au.

"It's a no-brainer.

"He's a phenomenal leader."

Hoiles, who was a highly respected leader himself at the Brumbies, said that Hooper's leadership was more important than ever before with Australian rugby going through a turbulent time on and off the field.

"I don't know what your back-row looks like, where he fits in, what style of footy Dave Rennie wants to play, but it's tough times that the game's in in Australia, it needs strong leadership and he's probably the strongest we've had over a decade without doubt," Hoiles said.

"Coaches like different combinations and pick different players. Some might want a big tall jumping back-row with one short (back-rower), I don't know, but where the game's at at the moment, the game more than ever needs strong leadership.

"The beauty about Hoops is you're not just picking someone who's a strong leader, you're picking someone who is always in form and always contributing on the field."

Hoiles' comments were backed up by acting Rebels captain and two-time World Cup campaigner To'omua, who pointed to England's drastic improvement from their own 2015 embarrassment to reach the final four years later.

"I think he's been a great captain and I think he's only going to get better," To'omua said.

"Yes, it hasn't been the most successful time but these are learning moments for him. 

"I'd caution against (a change). He just has a wealth of knowledge and experience and that's all a part of it.

"I look back to England in 2015 and then where they went to in 2019, I don't think they get to the final in 2019 if they don't experience that hardship and, to me, that's how I see our journey with Australia as well.

"It's all a part of the story and whilst we have a new coach and a new chapter, there's still going to be a lot of players who were a part of both campaigns and won't be scarred but will learn from the past.

"He's been captain of Australia under the one coach, he's done a great job, now he's going to have a new coach and he'll learn more and he'll develop.

"From my point of view, I do. I think it's a no-brainer but we obviously have a new coach with new ideas and he's a lot smarter than I am."

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To'omua added that Hooper's mentality was was separated him from the rest of the crop.

"Physically he's obviously very fit and strong but he's not leaps and bounds above other guys, but mentally he's a tough bugger, proper tough and proper dedicated to his craft and he cares so much about it and he's not afraid of caring.

"You see sometimes after games and he's shattered and he storms off because he puts so much effort into it. That's one thing that i love about him. He is always going to give everything he's got. He would carry so many injuries from playing that position but he's so durable, but I'm sure he's suffering from silence."

Interestingly, too, To'omua added that Hooper craved success more than anybody he knew currently playing in Australia.

"More than anybody I know currently playing, he genuinely wants the best for Australian rugby and wants to see us doing well both on the international stage and domestic stage for the Tahs.

"That care and that desire that he has is unrivaled in Australian rugby at the moment."

"I think Hoops sees the responsibility that he as Australian captain. He sees that it is his time to do what he can for the game and I think he feels it more than other guys to be honest. It's what I love about him, he cares so much for his club and his country."