Lavishing praise on his captain courageous, Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is convinced Michael Hooper will eclipse George Gregan as Australian rugby’s most-capped player and not just as skipper.
Hooper will eclipse Gregan’s record for most Tests as Wallabies captain when he leads Australia for a 60th time in Saturday night’s Rugby Championship return bout against South Africa.
It’s a mighty enough achievement but, with the champion flanker still only 29 and with 112 internationals already under his belt, Rennie fully expects Hooper to surge past Gregan’s 139 Tests for Australia as well.
“He’s just so resilient,” Rennie marvelled on Thursday.
“Even the other day against the All Blacks. Brodie Retallick splits him up and he gets 20-odd stitches in that cut and he puts a hat on and jumps back out there and gives his same sort of intensity.
“He’s just not (ever) injured. He’s always available and giving you plenty. So based on resilience so far, you’d think he’d play a lot more Tests.”
Hooper could conceivably equal, then break, Gregan’s all-time record as Australia’s longest-serving Wallabies player at the 2023 World Cup in France.
Barring an unlikely dip in form, Rennie certainly won’t be standing in the back-rower’s way, saying he’s “gobsmacked” Hooper has any critics at all.
“His form has been incredible and you’ll see it time and time again,” Rennie said.
“The amount of collisions, his ability to link and his ability to show desperation and get back to make key tackles.
“He’s a fantastic example to the rest of the group.
“If you talk to players around the world, and rugby people all round the world, he’s hugely respected.”
It’s Hooper’s sometimes puzzling decision-making and underwhelming record of just 23 wins, six draws and 30 defeats from 59 Tests in charge of his country that polarises fans.
“People’s opinions are often reflected on the success of the team and he’s been the captain so because the team loses and he’s the skipper, that responsibility is on him,” Rennie said.
“But he’s a Wallaby great.
“If he was playing in a different era with a team full of experienced and seasoned players and you’re dominating the world, you’d go down as one of the best players in the world.
“I still think he’ll get that mantle.”
In team news for the Brisbane game, Rennie on Thursday reinstated experienced halfback Nic White and props Taniela Tupou and James Slipper to the starting side as the Wallabies aim to back up last Sunday’s thrilling 28-26 win over the Springboks.
White replaces Tate McDermott at halfback, with Tupou finally earning his first start of the tournament after prop Allan Alaalatoa left Wallabies camp for the birth of his first child.
Slipper’s inclusion has forced Angus Bell back to the bench.
AUSTRALIA: Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (capt), Lachlan Swinton, Matt Philip, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper. Res: Feleti Kaitu’u, Angus Bell, Tom Robertson, Darcy Swain, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Reece Hodge, Jordan Petaia.