New Zealander Dave Rennie has made the biggest call to date since coming on board as Wallabies coach by reappointing incumbent captain Michael Hooper to take his team forward.
While it’s a new dawn in Australian rugby, Rennie has opted for the experience and hard-nosed approach of Hooper to drive the Wallabies forward in the post-Michael Cheika era. The next generation of Australian leaders like Fraser McReight and Liam Wright will have to wait.
During Cheika’s six-year reign, the Wallabies coach was regularly accused of showing favourism and being “blue eyed” towards the Waratahs and, in particular, Hooper.
But Rennie’s decision emphatically smashes the pedestal that many think Hooper stands on.
Hooper – barring injury – will lead the Wallabies out against the All Blacks on October 11 at Sky Stadium in Wellington for his 100th Test. He will become the quickest player in Test history to reach the century milestone
Only George Gregan (59) and John Eales (55) have led the Wallabies on more occasions than Hooper (46), but Rennie’s appointment should see the openside flanker become the longest serving Australian captain in the nation’s history.
Ever since first addressing the Australian media on January 23, Rennie has made it crystal clear that he would pick his team first and captain next.
Form would be the driver of selection and for that reason he would wait until appointing his captain unlike the All Blacks who appointed Sam Cane as their skipper in May.
On Wednesday, Rennie said the decision to reappoint Hooper was an easy one given his consistency throughout 2020.
“I’ve been really impressed with Hoops,” Rennie said.
“We’ve spoken a lot over the past nine months and it’s highlighted his passion and commitment.
“He’s a good man with an outstanding work ethic and he’s a great role model for our young men coming through.
“He’s keen to lead, and is highly respected by the Wallaby family. In the end his appointment was a straight forward decision.”
Hooper became the youngest player in half-a-century when he was thrust into the role in 2014 as a 22-year-old when Stephen Moore went down with injury against the French in Brisbane.
Since then the boy from Manly has always said that captaincy is a “privilege” and not something he’s craved nor sought.
On being appointed, Hooper maintained that stance and added that he was encouraged by what was brewing at the Wallabies in the early stages of the Rennie-era.
“It’s an absolute honour to be the Wallabies captain and I want to thank Dave, the Wallabies management team as well as Rugby Australia for their support and endorsement,” Hooper said in a statement.
“It’s a privilege to wear the Wallabies jersey, I feel proud to lead my teammates and to represent those players that have before and all Australians.
“I’m really excited about this group and the direction we are heading. We have already spent some quality time together, defining who we are and what we stand for and what we play to achieve in the coming months.”
Last month former teammate Stephen Hoiles and current Wallabies teammate Matt To’omua told RUGBY.com.au that appointing Hooper as captain was a “no-brainer”.
“I think he’s been a great captain and I think he’s only going to get better,” To’omua said.
“Yes, it hasn’t been the most successful time but these are learning moments for him.
“I’d caution against (a change). He just has a wealth of knowledge and experience and that’s all a part of it.
“I look back to England in 2015 and then where they went to in 2019, I don’t think they get to the final in 2019 if they don’t experience that hardship and, to me, that’s how I see our journey with Australia as well.
Nor does the decision mean that Hooper will necessarily captain the Wallabies right throughout the four-year World Cup cycle.
Both of last year’s World Cup finalists switched their captains midway through the previous four-year cycle, with Springboks back-rower Siya Kolisi taking over Warren Whiteley in 2018 and England playmaker Owen Farrell from Dylan Hartley.
A similar situation could take place with the Wallabies, with Hooper to turn 29 next month.
Nonetheless, his appointment means that he will wear the No.7 against the All Blacks next month.
Just who joins him in the back-row remains far from clear, with Brumbies duo Rob Valetini and Pete Samu the favourites to complete the back-row.
Press release from Rugby Australia
McKenzie relishing rare opportunity in 10 jersey
Circumstances created by Covid-19 have provided Damian McKenzie with only his second start at first five-eighths for Saturday’s Fortinet Rugby Championship Test in Brisbane against Argentina.
In the absence of Richie Mo’unga on paternity leave, and only he and Beauden Barrett in the All Blacks tour group as specialist first five-eighths, McKenzie has been entrusted with the playmaking role against an Argentine side looking to make up for a disappointing loss last week.
McKenzie with 34 Tests – 13 as a substitute and 20 starting at fullback – played his only other starting role at first-five against France, at Dunedin, in 2018. That was a 49-14 victory where McKenzie crossed for two tries and landed seven conversions.
McKenzie said Brisbane this weekend was an opportunity to have a chance in the position. He was comfortable taking it on after starts in Super Rugby, with the Chiefs, and as a substitute in Tests.
“It’s a challenge, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
Preparing for the role was not too different from the approach he took when playing fullback. But he now had the ‘keys to the bus’, so it was about getting his game management sorted.
Confidence built during the week’s preparation for a game, and he had concentrated on nailing that during the build-up.
What was different about starting was the requirement to break the opposition down instead of coming on as a substitute when play tended to open up more, something that suited his natural running type of game.
Beauden Barrett had been working with him during the tour, and learning from him had helped him be confident in what he could do on the field.
“As a driver, I want to be in the game as much as possible, so it’s about creating opportunities for other people around me and just making sure I’m in control and driving the team around the park where it needs to be.
“It’s different, but that’s not to say I’m going to chuck everything I know out the window and go to be a robotic player. I’ve still got to play my game,” he said.
With Chiefs team-mate Quinn Tupaea starting outside him at second five-eighths, McKenzie said they would be looking to play their games and not try to be anyone else.
“Quinn had a great season for us carrying the ball so we’ll look to do the simple things well and stick with what we know. If we can do that I’m sure everything else can flow off and we can put some good stuff together,” he said.
Hooper to break Wallabies captaincy record
Michael Hooper will surpass George Gregan for the most Tests as Wallabies captain when he leads the side out in Saturday’s eToro Rugby Championship clash with South Africa at Suncorp Stadium.
The 29-year-old will skipper the side for the 60th time in Brisbane after first captaining Australia as a 22-year-old in 2014, which made Hooper the third youngest Wallabies leader of all time.
Since making his International debut in 2012, Hooper has gone on to play 112 Tests for his country and will start in a settled back row alongside Lachlan Swinton at blindside flanker and no.8 Rob Valetini.
Fellow centurion James Slipper returns to the run-on side alongside Taniela Tupou who earns a second start in 2021 at his home ground, with Folau Fainga’a finalising the front row at hooker.
Izack Rodda will continue his impressive return to the Test arena, again partnering Matt Philip in the second row at Suncorp Stadium.
Brumbies number nine Nic White is the only change to the backline, earning his first start for the year and reigniting his partnership with last week’s match-winner Quade Cooper in the halves.
The damaging midfield duo of Samu Kerevi and Len Ikitau will get another chance to build their combination at inside and outside centre respectively.
Tom Banks has again been named at fullback with the 27-year-old having worn the number 15 jersey in every game for the Wallabies this year. He’s joined in the back three by Marika Koroibete and the in-form Andrew Kellaway.
Western Force regular Feleti Kaitu’u will get another opportunity after an impressive Test debut in last weekend’s win, while club teammate Tom Robertson returns to the Wallabies side for the first time since 2018. Angus Bell is the other replacement prop.
Darcy Swain has recovered from a foot injury to reclaim his spot in the match day 23 as the second row replacement with his Brumbies teammate Pete Samu the remaining forward cover.
Tate McDermott will provide his trademark spark as the finishing scrumhalf with Reece Hodge also set to add his versatility from the pine. Brisbane local Jordan Petaia rounds out the matchday 23.
Suncorp Stadium has proven a happy hunting ground for the Wallabies in recent years, with Australia having won eight straight Tests at the venue since 2016.
A victory against the reigning world champions on Saturday night would also secure the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate for the Wallabies.
Last weekend’s victory over the world’s number one side has helped Australia rise in the rankings, with the Wallabies now fifth.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said: “It’s an incredible milestone for Hoops on Saturday evening in Brisbane and it’s a testament to him as a person and a player.”
“I’ve been so impressed with his leadership both on and off the field and his drive to be better every day.
“We were really proud of the effort from our men last Sunday and we’re well aware of the ferocity that a wounded Springboks outfit will bring to Suncorp Stadium.”
Every Wallabies Test will be ad-free, live and on-demand with extended coverage on Stan Sport. Every home Wallabies Test will also be live, free-to-air on the Nine Network.
Tickets for the eToro Rugby Championship are available via wallabies.rugby.
Hospitality packages are on sale now. Private suites, corporate boxes and functions are available for fans who want to enhance their Test match experience.
Wallabies team to play South Africa at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane on Saturday 18 September, 5:05pm AEST
1. James Slipper (107 Tests)
2. Folau Fainga’a (18 Tests)
3. Taniela Tupou (32Tests)
4. Izack Rodda (27 Tests)
5. Matt Philip (16 Tests)
6. Lachlan Swinton (5 Tests)
7. Michael Hooper (c) (112 Tests)
8. Rob Valetini (11 Tests)
9. Nic White (40 Tests)
10. Quade Cooper (71 Tests)
11. Marika Koroibete (40 Tests)
12. Samu Kerevi (35 Tests)
13. Len Ikitau (6 Tests)
14. Andrew Kellaway (6 Tests)
15. Tom Banks (18 Tests)
16. Feleti Kaitu’u (1 Test)
17. Angus Bell (9 Tests)
18. Tom Robertson (24 Tests)
19. Darcy Swain (6 Tests)
20. Pete Samu (12 Tests)
21. Tate McDermott (9 Tests)
22. Reece Hodge (50 Tests)
23. Jordan Petaia (11 Tests)
All Blacks team named for second Argentina Test
The All Blacks team has been named to play Argentina in the Fortinet Rugby Championship Test at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, on Saturday 18 September (Kick-off: 8.05PM AEST, 10.05PM NZT).
The matchday 23 is (Test caps in brackets):
1. Joe Moody (51)
2. Samisoni Taukei’aho (5)
3. Tyrel Lomax (9)
4. Patrick Tuipulotu (38)
5. Tupou Vaa’i (6)
6. Ethan Blackadder (4)
7. Ardie Savea (53) – captain
8. Hoskins Sotutu (6)
9. TJ Perenara (72)
10. Damian McKenzie (34)
11. George Bridge (14)
12. Quinn Tupaea (2)
13. Rieko Ioane (41)
14. Will Jordan (7)
15. Jordie Barrett (29)
16. Codie Taylor (61)
17. George Bower (6)
18. Ofa Tuungafasi (39)
19. Scott Barrett (45)
20. Luke Jacobson (8)
21. Finlay Christie (2)
22. Beauden Barrett (95)
23. Braydon Ennor (1)
In the starting front row, Joe Moody is in the number one jersey after his return to the All Blacks off the bench last week, with hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho making his first Test start. Tyrel Lomax will start in the number three jersey. There is also a welcome return to the All Blacks for prop Ofa Tuungafasi who will return to international rugby via the bench, following his recovery from knee surgery. Prop George Bower will also bolster the front row from the reserves bench.
In the second row, Patrick Tuipulotu is back from a groin strain and will start alongside Tupou Vaa’i. Scott Barrett will provide impact from the bench.
In the loose forwards, Ethan Blackadder and Hoskins Sotutu will make their second Test starts, at blindside and number eight respectively while Ardie Savea returns as captain in the number seven jersey. Luke Jacobson is the loose forward cover.
In the backs, TJ Perenara is at halfback with Finlay Christie, making his first appearance in the Fortinet Rugby Championship, at reserve halfback. Damian McKenzie has been named to start his second Test in the playmaker 10 jersey while Quinn Tupaea gets his second Test start at 12 inside the experienced Rieko Ioane.
In the outsides, George Bridge is again on the left wing, Will Jordan is the right wing and Jordie Barrett is again at fullback. Beauden Barrett will provide experience from the bench, with Braydon Ennor making a welcome return to the national side via the bench.
Commenting on the team selected for the second Test against Argentina, All Blacks Head Coach Ian Foster said: “With five Tests in a row and a six-day turnaround between these two Argentinian Tests, we were always going to make some selection changes. Five Tests in a row demanded that. But the good thing is that we have a group that has been focussing on the same opposition for the last two weeks, so our preparation time hasn’t been compromised.
“We are expecting a huge response from Argentina and we have to make sure we are prepared for that because we know what a wounded beast is like. The key is not so much how they respond, but how we respond. If we go into this Test match thinking it’s just going to happen for us like last week without earning the right to have the scoreboard in our favour, then we are in trouble.”
Stats and facts
– The All Blacks and Argentina will be playing their 33rd Test against each other. New Zealand has won 30 of those matches, with one draw and Argentina’s first-ever victory in Sydney last year.
– Rieko Ioane last week scored his 30th Test try and the All Blacks 400th try in the Rugby Championship / Tri Nations.
– Ofa Tuungafasi will be playing his 40th Test and Jordie Barrett his 30th.
– The All Blacks have scored 16,961 points in Test matches so are not too far away from topping 17,000 points.
All Blacks matches – 2021 Fortinet Rugby Championship
All Blacks 57 Australia 22, Saturday 14 August, Eden Park, Auckland
Australia 21 All Blacks 38, Sunday 5 September, Optus Stadium, Perth
All Blacks 39 Argentina 0, Sunday 12 September, Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast
Argentina vs All Blacks, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Saturday 18 September
(Kick-off: 8.05PM AEST, 10.05PM NZT)
All Blacks vs South Africa, Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville, Saturday 25 September
(Kick-off: 5.05PM AEST, 7.05PM NZT)
South Africa vs All Blacks, Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast, Saturday 2 October
(Kick-off: 9.05PM AEST, 11.05PM NZT)
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