It took Michael Hooper a couple of weeks to even secure a starting role for the Brumbies but coach Jake White already rates him a strong contender for a Wallabies debut this year.
Hooper’s man-of-the-match performance in the Brumbies’ 33-26 Super Rugby victory over the previously unbeaten Highlanders last Saturday was so impressive that many others will agree.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has no clear-cut openside flanker back-up to champion David Pocock – so much so that, controversially, he didn’t even take one to last year’s World Cup.
But 20-year-old Hooper thrust his name right into the mix as he bobbed up everywhere at Canberra Stadium while making a match-high 26 tackles, forcing several turnovers, scoring the final try and having a hand in another to help lift the Brumbies atop the Australian conference.
White had no doubt a Wallabies call up is within range for Australia A representative Hooper, who was named player of the tournament in last year’s junior World Cup.
“There’s no doubt in my mind about that,” said White.
“The bottom line is that Michael’s been groomed as a junior and everyone speaks highly of him.
“He’s had an outstanding year last year in the (world) under-20s tournament and he was one of the players that obviously caught the eye of all the coaches that were there.”
White also cited Hooper’s ability to lift his teammates through his own workrate.
“As long as Michael keeps playing like he does, he sets the bar higher and higher for the players that want to take his jersey.”
The Brumbies prepare to take on the tough and seasoned Sharks at Canberra Stadium this Saturday, aiming to extend their 2012 undefeated home record by another week.
Lock Leon Power said the Brumbies have already moved on from Saturday’s impressive victory.
“We’ve got to wipe that Highlanders game now and focus all our energy on the Sharks because that’s all that matters at the moment,” he said.
“The Sharks are obviously playing well and they were unlucky to lose (against the Waratahs), so they’ll be fired up for sure.”
Largely written off in the pre-season, the Brumbies have emerged as the surprise packet of the Australian conference after three victories and just one, tight loss against the Chiefs.
Both White and Power stressed it’s still early days.
“There’s still a lot more we’ve got to work on. We’ve got to be improving each week – every team will – if we want to have a fair shot of making the playoffs,” Power said.