Michael Hooper changes his tune on Wallabies captaincy
SPOTLIGHT: A mentally and physically revitalised Michael Hooper has changed his tune and says he’s ready to resume the Wallabies captaincy if he’s asked.
In what will be music to Eddie Jones’ ears, Hooper says he’d be open to leading Australia to the 2023 Rugby World Cup if the new coach comes knocking.
It was only less than seven months ago fans feared the champion flank may have played his last Test after dramatically leaving the Australian camp in Argentina on match eve to take a mental health break.
Even when he returned for the end-of-year tour of Europe, Hooper was making no promises and said taking back the captaincy from James Slipper was not in his plans.
Now the Wallabies’ longest-serving skipper says he’d be ready to step up again if Jones sent an SOS call.
“Look, I’m open to whatever’s best for the team,” 31-year-old Hooper said at the Waratahs training on Monday.
“My first and foremost commitment is to play really good rugby and play the best rugby I can for the Tahs and how that then develops later into the year, we’ll see.
“There’s so much that can happen in six months, which is what the time frame [is], or maybe even less, to the Test matches over there.”
Jones was only parachuted in to replace Dave Rennie last month and Hooper said he’d had little engagement with the new boss.
“But from the conversations I have had, very impressive,” he said.
“I mean, what a career he’s had and to come back home for him is very exciting. So there’s a huge amount to learn off someone with that amount of experience.”
Likewise, Jones will likely be eager to have the experience and class of the 124-Test stalwart and the Wallabies’ only four-time player of the year on top of his game in this World Cup year.
Jones will be pleased to know, then, that the workaholic loose forward is “absolutely” keen to feature at a third and almost certainly final World Cup in France.
“Physically and mentally, I feel great,” Hooper said ahead of the Waratahs’ Super Rugby Pacific season opener on Friday against the Brumbies.
“I’ve got some games under the belt, so that helps. I’ve got a good amount of experience to count on.
“When I had that time off last year it was a very similar amount of time to when I played [again] in the Scotland Test.
“It was about three-and-a-half months or just under that. It’s been about the same time since I played against Ireland now rolling into this one. So it’s very doable.
“To roll out 80 minutes, that I’d be happy with, and I can really contribute to the team.
“I know I’m going to be blowing this game. It’s going to be hard, there’s going to be times where I’ve got the hands on the hips and head back and sucking in seagulls like everyone.
“ll have to dig deep at times, but it’s those times that are fun with these match-ups.”