Hooper backing his Kiwi coach's selection gamble
It’s possibly the biggest selection gamble in Wallabies history, but Michael Hooper is convinced the greenhorn midfield pairing of Noah Lolesio and Irae Simone can inspire Australia to a famous Bledisloe Cup triumph on Saturday.
Playmaker Lolesio, 20, and inside centre Simone, 25, are both making their Test debuts in Sydney.
Their inclusion, following injuries to James O’Connor and Matt Toomua, marks the first time since 1947 – 73 years and 136 Trans-Tasman Tests ago – that the Wallabies will field a 10-12 combination without a single cap between them against the All Blacks.
Former World Cup captain Stirling Mortlock ranks Wallabies coach Dave Rennie’s daring picks as “right up there” with the boldest selection calls Australian rugby has ever seen.
“Especially given the context. We haven’t won the Bledisloe Cup in almost 20 years,” Mortlock told AAP on Friday.
“And this year it’s on the line and we’ve picked two debutants at 10 and 12, so it’s right up there.
“Having said that, Lolesio is a great player, an outstanding talent. I would have loved to have seen him blooded in the first two [games of the series].”
Australia’s last three No.10-No.12 combinations to debut against the All Blacks all featured in Wallabies defeats, including the most recent – Kevin Bourke and Neville Emery in 1947 – when the All Blacks won 27-14 at the SCG.
Not since Wally Lewis – not the ‘King Wally’ Rugby League Immortal – and Dooney Hayes helped Australia to a 25-11 win over New Zealand at the SCG in 1934 have an untried midfield Test pairing been successful for the Wallabies in a Bledisloe Cup encounter.
Hooper, though, is unfazed.
“I’m not focused on history, I’m focused on tomorrow,” Hooper said after the Wallabies’ captain’s run on Friday.
“And we have a really good opportunity in Sydney. We have a really good, exciting young team that’s playing some pretty good footy.”
Making Lolesio’s international debut even more startling is the fact that he’s only played nine games of Super Rugby.
That doesn’t concern Hooper either.
“He’s a confident player,” said the Wallabies skipper.
“Watching him from afar in the Brumbies outfit, he’s been really good in the way he manages himself and the team.
“So I’ve been impressed with him there.
“But probably more, he had a bench spot down in Wellington and didn’t get on. Then he was out of the team [in Auckland] and now he’s straight into the starting team.
“Everyone in our team is a great story and he’s no different.”
The Wallabies haven’t held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003 and, trailing 1-0 in the four-match series after losing 27-7 in Auckland and drawing 16-all in Wellington, must win on Saturday keep their 2020 hopes alive.
The last game is in Brisbane on Saturday week.
WALLABIES 10-12 MIDFIELD PAIRINGS TO MAKE THEIR TEST DEBUTS AGAINST THE ALL BLACKS
1934: Wally Lewis and Dooney Hayes, Australia bt NZ 25-11 at the SCG, Sydney
1936: Vic Richards and Tom Pauling, Australia lost to NZ 11-6 at Athletic Park, Wellington
1946: Paul Johnson and Mick Cremin, Australia lost to NZ 31-8 at the SCG, Sydney
1947: Neville Emery and Kevin Bourke, Australia lost to NZ 27-14 at the SCG, Sydney
2020: Noah Lolesio and Irae Simone, Australia v NZ at ANZ Stadium