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
Nic White ruled out of France series
It has been reported White has returned to Canberra after picking up the injury during their camp on the Sanctuary Cove
He will miss all three Tests, racing the clock to be fit for the Bledisloe Cup, slated to start on August 7.
His injury opens the door for Reds scrum-half Tate McDermott to make his debut start for the Wallabies after a starring role in the Reds’ Super Rugby AU title.
McDermott is joined in the race for the starting spot by Waratah Jake Gordon and White’s club team-mate Ryan Lonergan.
Gordon is facing his own injury battle, suffering an MCL injury in their Round Four loss to the Highlanders.
Initially feared to be an ACL, Gordon looks set to make a remarkable recovery as he battles Lonergan for a spot in the 23.
Lonergan, who was initially brought into the squad as injury cover for Gordon, will be pushing alongside brother Lachlan to become the first set of brothers since the Fainga’a’s to play for Australia.
“It’s a privilege to play alongside each other and do it for most of our career. We never thought we’d get this far,” Ryan told reporters on Tuesday
“(Wallabies) has always been a goal. It was a goal just to play Brumbies and it would be awesome to do the same for the Wallabies,” his brother Lachlan added.
“There’s still a long road ahead for both of us. We still need to prove ourselves and that we belong to wear the jersey but if we do get the chance, it’d be awesome.”
Rebels confirm big name departures
In an announcement on Friday, the club revealed Koroibete will head to Japan in 2022 following his Wallabies commitments.
The 28-year-old was named Players’ Player following an outstanding 2021 campaign, with the winger scoring 23 tries during his 69 games with the club.
He will be joined in Japan by Isi Naisarani, who will leave the club after playing 31 games since 2019.
Meanwhile, Haylett-Petty, who was named captain for the past three years, will not return as he explores his options.
Haylett-Petty did not feature in 2021 as he continues to recover from a concussion.
Lock Steve Cummins has also signed a multi-year deal with French side Section Paloise in the Top 14.
Their departing list is rounded out by Tom Pincus, who they confirmed will move into his post-Rugby career.
The club has confirmed that they will retain the majority of their squad from 2021, with 27 players contracted for the 2022 season.
All Blacks name squad & Captain for Steinlager Series
The All Blacks selectors, Head Coach Ian Foster, Assistant Head Coach John Plumtree and former All Black Grant Fox, have named the squad for the 2021 Steinlager Series Tests against Fiji and Tonga.
- Exciting talent unveiled with four new caps picked
- Lock Samuel Whitelock named as captain
The 36-strong squad is as follows:
(With age, Sky Super Rugby club, provincial union and Test caps in brackets. New All Blacks are in bold):
Asafo Aumua (24, Hurricanes / Wellington, 1)
Dane Coles (34, Hurricanes / Wellington, 74)
Codie Taylor (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 56)
George Bower (29, Crusaders / Otago, uncapped)
Ethan de Groot (22, Highlanders / Southland, new cap)
Nepo Laulala (29, Blues / Counties Manukau, 29)
Tyrel Lomax (25, Hurricanes / Tasman, 6)
Angus Ta’avao (31, Chiefs / Auckland, 14)
Karl Tu’inukuafe (28, Blues / North Harbour, 17)
Scott Barrett (27, Crusaders / Taranaki, 36)
Brodie Retallick (30, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 81)
Patrick Tuipulotu (28, Blues / Auckland, 35)
Tupou Vaa’i (21, Chiefs / Taranaki, 4)
Samuel Whitelock (32, Crusaders / Canterbury, 122) – captain
Ethan Blackadder (26, Crusaders / Tasman, new cap)
Shannon Frizell (27, Highlanders / Tasman, 13)
Akira Ioane (26, Blues / Auckland, 2)
Luke Jacobson (24, Chiefs / Waikato, 2)
Dalton Papalii (23, Blues / Counties Manukau, 4)
Ardie Savea (27, Hurricanes / Wellington, 49)
Hoskins Sotutu (22, Blues / Counties Manukau, 5)
Finlay Christie (25, Blues / Tasman, new cap)
Aaron Smith (32, Highlanders / Manawatu, 97)
Brad Weber (30, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 7)
Beauden Barrett (30, Blues / Taranaki, 88)
Richie Mo’unga (27, Crusaders / Canterbury, 22)
Braydon Ennor (23, Crusaders / Canterbury, 1)
David Havili (26, Crusaders / Tasman, 3)
Rieko Ioane (24, Blues / Auckland, 33)
Anton Lienert-Brown (26, Chiefs / Waikato, 49)
Quinn Tupaea (22, Chiefs / Waikato, new cap)
Jordie Barrett (24, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 23)
George Bridge (26, Crusaders / Canterbury, 10)
Will Jordan (22, Crusaders / Tasman, 2)
Damian McKenzie (26, Chiefs / Waikato, 27)
Sevu Reece (23, Crusaders / Tasman, 8)
The key feature of the squad is the selection of four new All Blacks, in young Highlanders and Southland prop Ethan de Groot; Crusaders and Tasman loose forward Ethan Blackadder; Blues and Tasman halfback Finlay Christie; and young Chiefs and Waikato player Quinn Tupaea.
The squad also sees the return of 2019 All Blacks loose forward Luke Jacobson and prop Angus Ta’avao. Midfielders David Havili, who last played for the national side in 2017, and Braydon Ennor are also back, along with senior All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick, who recently returned from a playing stint in Japan.
In naming the first All Blacks squad for 2021, Head Coach Ian Foster said: “Firstly, on behalf of the selectors, I want to congratulate all players selected for this Steinlager Series squad, especially, the new All Blacks, Ethan de Groot and Ethan Blackadder, and Finlay and Quinn. It’s an incredibly special day for them and their families and we look forward to catching up with them when we get into camp this week.
“There will be players who will be disappointed at missing out on selection and we feel for them as well.”
122-Test lock Samuel Whitelock has been named captain for the Steinlager Series, replacing Sam Cane who is still recovering from chest surgery.
“Sam Whitelock is the right man for the job.”
“He’s hugely experienced, not just as a player but also as a leader, and he has great connections with Sam Cane and the leaders in the team as well. Our current leadership group is working hard together and we know Sam will lead the team superbly in the Steinlager Series.”
As well as Cane, several other injured All Blacks weren’t considered for selection, including props Ofa Tuungafasi and Joe Moody and midfielder Jack Goodhue. Highlanders halfback Folau Fakatava was also not considered for selection due to injury.
Foster said the All Blacks had a clear goal for 2021 to be number one in the world again.
“This is going to involve hard work and a commitment to our preparation, whilst at the same time expanding our depth, with an eye to the future.”
The team will assemble for a three-day camp in South Auckland later this week before heading into the Tongan Test week.
The All Blacks squad is made up of 21 forwards (three hookers, six props, five locks and seven loose forwards) and 15 backs (three halfbacks, two first five–eighths, five midfielders, and five outside backs).
The squad is made up of nine Blues players, eight Chiefs, five Hurricanes, 11 Crusaders and three Highlanders, while 12 of New Zealand’s provinces are represented, with seven Tasman players, five from Canterbury, four each from Auckland, Waikato and Taranaki, three from Wellington and Counties Manukau, two from Hawke’s Bay, and one each from North Harbour, Manawatu, Otago and Southland.
The squad has an average age of 26, a total of 920 caps experience for an average of 25 Test caps per player.
The new All Blacks – mini bios
Born: 22 March 1995
Position: Loose forward
Height, weight: 190cm, 111kg
The son of former All Blacks captain Todd Blackadder, Ethan hails from North Canterbury originally but attended Nelson College. Blackadder was called into the Tasman provincial team in 2016 after a stellar club season. He became a regular starter for Tasman in 2017 as they made their way to the Premiership Final and in 2019, Blackadder helped the side secure its first provincial title. With the ability to play both lock and in the loose forwards, the versatile player made his Crusaders debut in 2018 and has 20 appearances for the Super side.
Born: 19 September 1994
Height, weight: 177cm, 82kg
Born in Scotland, Christie moved to New Zealand aged seven and attended St Kentigern’s College in Auckland before heading to Canterbury to study. He made his provincial debut for Tasman in 2016 and his eye-catching form saw him offered a Chiefs contract in 2017. He played one season for the Chiefs before becoming a key player in Tasman’s run to the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership Final in 2017. He played for the Hurricanes in 2018-2019 and then moved home to the Blues for the 2020 season. Christie is also a former New Zealand gymnastics representative.
Ethan de Groot
Born: 22 July 1998
Height, weight: 190cm, 122kg
Raised in New Zealand’s deep south, the form of 22-year-old loosehead prop Ethan de Groot has been a highlight of the Highlanders campaigns this year. De Groot developed as a player at Southland Boys’ High School and rose through the Rugby Southland Academy and age group teams before making his provincial debut for Southland in 2018. He made two appearances off the bench for the Highlanders last year before becoming a feature of the matchday 23 this year, scoring two tries in the ‘Landers win over the Waratahs in Sky Super Rugby Trans Tasman.
Born: 10 May 1999
Position: Midfield back
Height, weight: 186cm, 97kg
Quinn Tupaea announced his arrival on the provincial scene for Waikato in 2018 after starring at Hamilton Boys’ High School and as New Zealand Schools captain. A powerful runner and skilful with ball in hand, he started in 11 of his 12 appearances that season and was named Waikato Emerging Player of the Year. He took his outstanding form in his debut season with the Chiefs in 2020 and was named Chiefs Rookie of the Year. The club has signed him through to 2023. Tupaea also played for the Māori All Blacks against Moana Pasifika last year.
The 2021 Steinlager Series
1. All Blacks vs Tonga, 7.05PM, Saturday 3 July, plus Māori All Blacks vs Manu Samoa (kick-off 4.30PM), Mt Smart Stadium, AUCKLAND
2. All Blacks vs Fiji, 7.05PM, Saturday 10 July, Forsyth Barr Stadium, DUNEDIN
3. All Blacks vs Fiji, 7.05PM, Saturday 17 July, plus Tonga vs Samoa (kick-off 4.00PM) FMG Stadium Waikato, HAMILTON
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