Hooper still has plenty of respect for McCaw

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 18:14 15/08/2014
FOCUSSED: Young Wallabies captain Michael Hooper is not buying into any talk of Richie McCaw's powers diminishing.
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POTENTIAL: Young Wallabies skipper Michael Hopper has benn likened to former South African cricket captain Graeme Smith by Springboks captain Jean de Villiers.

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Michael Hooper discounted suggestions that counterpart Richie McCaw's legendary powers are diminishing as his international rugby career approaches it's zenith, though the Wallaby captain stopped short of endorsing the All Black icon as the game's benchmark openside flanker.

On the eve of the opening Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship test of 2014 at Sydney's ANZ Stadium, Hooper was complimentary concerning the 127-cap veteran when asked for his appraisal of the 33-year-old's form amid suggestions in New Zealand that McCaw was losing his aura.

Hooper, 11 year's McCaw's junior, showed due deference to a point, when insisting: ''There's no chance he's a spent force the amount he'll bring to the All Black jersey and the guys around him would be monumental.''

But Hooper, who emerged victorious in the Super Rugby final against the Crusaders a fortnight ago despite being double-teamed at the breakdown by McCaw and Matt Todd, was reluctant to describe the three-time IRB world player of the year as the dominant No 7.

''It's hard to say,'' said Hooper, who is seeking a first test win over the All Blacks at his sixth attempt.

''I think every seven plays a different game. I play a different game, Richie would play a different game to guys in the past, like a 'Poey' (David Pocock) or a George Smith, so everyone brings different things to the table.

''He's very good at disrupting opposition ball. He's a physical presence on the team, one of the biggest things is what he brings to an All Black jersey and the team around him.''

Hooper first matched-up against McCaw two years ago in Auckland and on the basis of their encounter at the test venue earlier this month it will be a physical and cerebral battle tomorrow night.

''He's still right up there as a tough competitor,'' said Hooper, relishing the opportunity to face McCaw for the fifth time at test level.

''You're pretty pumped to take him on and run out there against him. I look forward to every chance I get to play against these (All Black) guys.''

Hooper has not yet watched a replay of the NSW Waratahs stunning 33-32 victory over the Crusaders, and doubts McCaw will be experiencing flashbacks given he conceded the match-winning penalty in the final minute.

''I think Richie's probably a good enough player to think about the task ahead and not be thing about previous things. I assume he'll be looking forward and looking how we can get over the line with his team.''

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McCaw often found himself offside with Craig Joubert before the South African referee awarded a debatable penalty - and Hooper hoped Jaco Peyper would also not be swayed by his rival's stature in the game.

''I hope we're on an even footing straight away. They'd be nothing to suggest otherwise going into the match,'' said Hooper, who succeeded Stephen Moore as captain following the hooker's season-ending knee injury against France in June.

''You've got to play it by ear and we have to make sure our that our team's doing the right thing and playing a game that Jaco can also be able to interpret well.''

- Stuff

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