Super final a distant memory, says Hooper

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 14:38 16/08/2014
Michael Hooper
Getty
EYE ON THE PRIZE: Wallabies captain Michael Hooper gazes longingly at the Bledisloe Cup.

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Michael Hooper is yet to watch a replay of the NSW Waratahs' history-making Super Rugby triumph over the Crusaders two weeks ago, an indication the Wallabies captain is solely focused on the next phase of Australian rugby's renaissance.

Hooper would surely have been justified in revisiting at least the dying stages of his team's crowning moment at ANZ Stadium even if Bernard Foley's match-winning penalty is already ingrained in his memory - but the national team's youngest skipper in 53 years is intent on looking forward, not back.

"The Waratahs are a separate entity," the 22-year-old said, as he prepares to lead the Wallabies in their latest attempt to reclaim the Bledisloe Cup, a trophy that has remained elusive since the All Blacks won at Eden Park in 2003.

The Wallabies exacted revenge three months later in their World Cup semifinal in Sydney but since then test victories at their greatest rival's expense have been few and far between while the All Blacks head into tonight's opening instalment of the third Rugby Championship on the cusp of a record-setting 18-test winning streak.

That history - and the fact the Wallabies have claimed only two of the previous 20 trans-Tasman tests - suggests Hooper and his teammates face another ominous task against the world champions, not that the talented openside flanker appeared fazed yesterday.

In contrast to the All Blacks, who had Conrad Smith make an early morning departure for Wellington to be with his pregnant wife, the Wallabies build-up has been relatively smooth despite some injury-related defections, including experienced hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau.

"It's been quite an easy job this week. It feels pretty cool, it's been a good week for us as a team.

"I don't feel the pressure because as a group I've seen first-hand what we can do on the field, what the players around me can do so that makes me really excited more than anything," said Hooper, who plays his 32nd test.

He is the fifth-most experienced member of the starting pack behind James Slipper, Wycliff Palu, Sekope Kepu and Rob Simmons - a quartet that face an important role in guiding one-test lock Sam Carter and third choice hooker Nathan Charles though their first tests against the All Blacks.

Hooper acknowledged the Wallabies' inexperience in key positions up front, but stayed optimistic.

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"All the guys have a cap now, so that's a positive. You've got one new starter (Charles) so all the guys are used to test rugby or have had an experience in test rugby."

And although he didn't want to dwell on the Waratahs' maiden title, it did underpin an encouraging Super Rugby season for the Brumbies and Western Force.

"The Aussie teams have been in pressure situations this year and take confidence out of that.

"There's lot of guys there getting good exposure to high level, high pressure games that we can take into (the test) and understand what's needed to get across the line through physicality and a lot of work rate."

Meanwhile, Hooper was certain the selection of Kurtley Beale at first five-eighth ahead of Bernard Foley would be warranted as the 25-year-old assumes the No.10 jersey for the first time since late 2012.

"He's been fantastic. He was sharp in a Waratah jersey week in, week out and he's been sharp at training," Hooper said.

"The bloke's in great nick, he's having fun. He's vocal, he'll go really well."

Hooper hoped that demeanour would be evident across the field tonight.

"If you've got 15 guys completing their roles really well then we're going to be in for a good night."

- Stuff

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