Why Rennie is not rearranging the 'furniture'
REACTION: Dave Rennie resisted the temptation to ‘clean house’ when he retained Michael Hooper as Wallaby captain. However, he says it is with ‘good reason’.
Hooper, 28, is poised to eventually surpass George Gregan as the longest-serving Wallaby captain.
Having given up the Waratahs captaincy this year, he will feature in his 100th Test when he leads Australia out against New Zealand in Wellington on Sunday, October 11.
Captain for 46 of his 99 Tests, only Gregan (59) and John Eales (55) have led the side on more occasions.
Rennie on Wednesday explained why he resisted the urge to “change the furniture” and retain him in the top job in a squad that includes 16 uncapped players.
On the one hand, it’s a sensible call from the new Wallaby coach, Rennie.
Hooper has 99 caps to his name, is exceptional at every facet of the game, and likely has plenty of respect both inside and outside the Wallabies camp.
On the other hand, Hooper’s captaincy record with the Australian national side is far from impressive.
Under the loose forward’s term as captain, the Wallabies have managed just 19 wins from 46 matches.
However, Rennie said Hooper is ‘someone who has the ability to dominate their jersey’.
Rennie, at least for now, doesn’t feel he’s boxed himself into a corner.
“No I wouldn’t say concerned,” Rennie told reporters in a virtual media briefing on Wednesday.
“I think Hoops has been excellent.
“He’s tough and he’s passionate about the team, he ticks a lot of boxes for us.”
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Rennie added that it’s been good for Hooper not to lead the Waratahs.
“It’s been a chance for him to reflect on leadership and how he engages with referees,” the coach said.
“He’s still going to have to earn the right to play and he’s done that so far.
“We’re not scared to make tough decisions but we’re also selecting someone who we believe has the ability to dominate their jersey, so that’s the reason for the decision.”
A proponent of co-captains while coaching at club and Super Rugby level, Rennie said a solo skipper – flanked by an unofficial leadership group – worked better in a national set-up and was confident Hooper would “dominate his position” to avoid any awkward selection dramas.
“We’re planning on going in a new direction, but it doesn’t mean you need to change the furniture totally.”
Rennie had made his mind up weeks ago, but only told Hooper this past Sunday.
The Waratahs flank led Australia to last year’s underwhelming World Cup quarterfinal exit and was no sure thing of continuing after Rennie delayed his call until the new-look squad gathered in the Hunter Valley this week.
Hooper relinquished his Super Rugby captaincy this year to veteran lock Rob Simmons, but maintained he was still eager to take the national job if Rennie saw fit.
“It felt very rewarding and then also like ‘okay, I’ve got to get myself together’, pretty much,” Hooper laughed.
Denied the record when he was rested for a game at last year’s World Cup, Hooper will become the second-fastest behind New Zealand’s Sam Whitelock to go from a debut to 100 Tests in Wellington on October 11.
A second Bledisloe Cup Test, slated for Auckland’s Eden Park on October 18, follows before they return for six Rugby Championship Tests across NSW and Brisbane from November 7.
It’s an eight-game haul across 10 weeks – tougher than even a successful World Cup run – that would put Hooper just one game behind Eales and within reach of Gregan’s mark.
Rennie’s show of faith in Hooper means he could well be leading the side into France’s 2023 World Cup, when the breakdown menace would still only be 31.
“I was a kid who looked up to the Wallabies – your John Eales, George Gregans – and to be sitting in a similar role is a privilege,” he said.
“It’s on the timeline isn’t it, that World Cup. I’ve been in two cycles of them now and know how quickly they can come around.
“Yes, we have this nice big cherry [in 2023], but it starts right now with two Bledisloe Cup games in New Zealand in three weeks.”