Michael Hooper hasn't been living under a rock. He has heard his name linked to the Wallabies captaincy, alongside the likes of James Horwill, who led Australia throughout the 2011 World Cup, and 91-test veteran Stephen Moore. At just 22, Hooper would be among the youngest of Wallabies captains if he was selected by Ewen McKenzie, behind Jimmy Flynn (20) in 1914 and Trevor Allan (21) in 1947. But after some thought - not too much, mind you - the 2013 John Eales medallist reckons he might be ready.
"I have had quite a few years now in the fold and being around different styles of teams and coaches and things, so I feel like I have seen quite a bit now," he said. "Whether the coach would have faith, I am not too sure. I haven't put too much thought into it."
Hooper and Moore sit at opposite ends of the spectrum on a list of possible candidates, along with Horwill, Will Genia and Scott Higginbotham. Both are also the most assured of their positions after a lamentable season for Queensland and early but unfulfilled promise at the Rebels.
Hooper said it was a "massive privilege" to be mentioned in the captaincy debate but he was preoccupied helping the Waratahs make their first Super Rugby finals series in three years.
"I have noticed and it is a massive privilege to be talked about in that light," he said. "[The test series against France] doesn't seem that long away, a couple of weeks, but we still have such a busy schedule here it hasn't really come into my thinking.
"We have a massive job here with the Tahs and, as a leadership group, we are trying to put our best foot forward for these three really important games.
"It is something I enjoyed doing earlier in the year with the Tahs and I have really enjoyed being in the leadership group here. It is a cool thing but we'll see how we go."
With 14 tests this season and a World Cup next year, Hooper said he hoped whoever McKenzie appointed would be around for the long haul.
"It's about finding the right one to go into whatever series it may be," he said. "Whether that chops or changes I'm not sure, but it would be nice to have someone who would lead through to that time, but there are so many variables between now and then."
Hooper is preparing to play his 11th straight full game of Super Rugby this year against the Lions this afternoon.
He and Waratahs five-eighth Bernard Foley are among just five Australian players who have played every minute of every game this season. Brumbies and incumbent Wallabies captain Ben Mowen, Quade Cooper and Nick Cummins have also stayed around in every game.
Hooper said the Waratahs wanted to replicate the fast starts that have been a hallmark of their season to date - even if they are not yet quite used to them.
"It is sort of weird when you do get that try and you're back on halfway wondering can you do that for the next 79 minutes or whatever," he said. "There are a few factors. If you score an early try, the opposition get very hungry to get back in the game. They have a bit of a wake-up call so they come back harder. You have to try and find what it was that worked that time, with a harder opposition coming at you."
If NSW can match the Lions' scrum - the most potent in the competition - and the Waratahs' skills match their intent, the afternoon kick-off at Allianz Stadium today could play right into the home side's hands.
"Sunshine just breeds good footy," Hooper said. "[If] you rock up to the stadium and it's pouring rain, you are not thinking about throwing a million offloads and running in six tries. But it is definitely on the cards when the weather is [sunny]."
- Sydney Morning Herald
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