Hooper eyeing off LA Sevens debut after Vancouver issues

Mon, Feb 26, 2024, 2:00 AM
by AAP
Henry Palmer and Henry Hutchison combine against the USA at SVNS Vancouver

Record-breaking Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has all-but-confirmed his rugby sevens debut will come in Los Angeles.

Australia's men had to settle for 10th in the Canadian world series leg on Monday morning (AEDT), starved of possession in a 24-7 loss to South Africa to cap a disappointing 1-4 weekend for the team ranked third entering the event.

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Hooper - the most-capped Wallabies skipper and boasting 125 Tests in total for Australia - watched from the sideline.

Overlooked for last year's 15-man World Cup, the flanker committed to the code's Olympic alternative with the hope of playing at the Paris Games in July.

"It's a long road to get back, but this was always the goal, LA," he told Stan Sport.

"I've had a good taste of it (watching) in Vancouver this week.

"I'm really keen to get out after being so close to getting out on the field, just have to tick a few boxes then we'll see how we go."

Niggles and general conditioning requirements have ensured a steady transition for the 32-year-old, who in 2020 became the youngest player in world rugby to reach 100 Tests.

If selected for the United States leg he'd have four tournaments to prove himself before Australia's team is selected for Paris. 

The 2022 World Series champions rate as one of many medal threats in a wide-open field after making two finals from four events this season. 

"(125 Test caps) is a lot in that world, but it doesn't mean much in this, I'm starting to notice," Hooper said. 

"I know how to pass, how to tackle. But it's a different game altogether.

"Someone said to me once, 'You're no longer a rugby player, you're an athlete'. I'm starting to understand what that means.

"I don't think anything can prepare you for what's to come when you first take the field."

The Australians dropped to fifth on the World Series ladder after Argentina defeated New Zealand in the Final.

“After a couple of good tournaments this was a timely reminder of how hard this competition is, and if you’re off you get punished," coach John Manenti said. “Our lack of respect for possession was our undoing – we created enough opportunities to win games. There’s going to be some serious soul-searching this week, and we’ll bounce high for Los Angeles.”

Meanwhile, the women missed their first final of the season, upset 21-19 by France in Monday's semi-final.

A first-half turnover and long-range effort from Seraphine Okemba turned the contest France's way.

Maddison Levi rolled out of one tackle then palmed off two more defenders to score on halftime, before crossing again after the fulltime siren.

But she wasn't able to improve her position, and Tia Hinds' conversion attempt to send the game into extra time edged just wide.

Canada caught Australia napping with early tries in both halves to win the third-place play-off 19-14.

"We didn’t respect possession all tournament and that will always cost you in any ball sport," coach Tim Walsh said.

“Our defence was solid and generally kept us in games – however it was not a polished performance by any stretch.

“It was good to be able to provide much-needed minutes to developing and returning players – forced and planned – building our combinations for Los Angeles and beyond.

“Tia Hinds, Bella Nasser, Kaitlin Shave, Lily Dick and Sidney Taylor will all benefit from the Vancouver experience.”

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