Hooper to halfback for Wallabies? What, the flanker?

Will Knight Columnist

By , Will Knight is a Roar Expert

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    Warning: the following contains a theory that some conservative rah-rah fans may find disturbing.

    We’ve all got at least one mate who talks so much rubbish, you often feel compelled to signal for the team doctor to come over and give them a concussion test. Their natural habitat is the pub. They get more brazen as the beer flows.

    I’m probably one of them – I’ve got a catalogue of easy-to-ridicule, farcical, left-field propositions that have been thrown around like legitimate and sane ideas worth further discussion. You know, more madhouse than MENSA. Like a drunken darts player.

    Well, the next theory came from someone who normally makes a lot of sense. So as ridiculous as it sounded at first, I thought it was worth hearing him out. And it wasn’t a six-beers-deep hypothesis, but one made with no excuse for incoherence.

    “Michael Hooper doesn’t win enough turnover ball or slow the ball down for the Wallabies – Michael Cheika should turn him into a halfback!” he proposed.

    Hooper is a freakish player. Few would dispute that. He’s tough, quick, skilful, fantastic in support, a brilliant defender, runs out the 80 minutes, and has great instincts. What about his covering tackle on Springboks centre Jan Serfontein on Saturday night? Class.

    He wins a fair bit of turnover ball for the Waratahs. But at international level, it’s fair to say – most noticeably against the top sides – he’s not as dominant at the breakdown.

    He rarely seems to pilfer nor slow the ball down consistently. He doesn’t have the effectiveness to rival Sam Cane, Jaco Kriel, Ardie Savea or Sam Warburton.

    Warburton’s inclusion at No.7 for the British and Irish Lions in the second Test against the All Blacks a few months ago was a significant factor in the tourists’ series fight back. Of course, Sonny Bill Williams got sent off, but the Welshman slowed a lot of ball down at the ruck, ensuring the Kiwis committed players to the breakdown that usually meant – with the Lions defending – they had fewer attackers to number up on.

    If you wrote out the job responsibilities for an openside flanker, being a pest at the breakdown would be near the top of the list.

    Even though he’s a very solid 101kg, Hooper maybe lacks a bit of size at Test level. It’s one of the few negatives you can level at the skipper, who as a 26-year-old is a seasoned Wallaby and been their best for a few seasons.

    Is it too far-fetched to turn him into a halfback? Realistically, there’s more chance of Twiggy Forrest being handed the No.9 jersey. Plus Will Genia, at 29, still has at least a few more years in him and is in top form.

    Will Genia Wallabies Springboks Rugby Union Test Championship 2016 Australia South Africa

    AAP Image/Dan Peled

    But it could be done.

    He’s got the pace and instincts. His defence around the ruck would be a huge asset. He’d be a rugged presence around the ruck to get his body over the ball if needed as that’s his natural habitat. He’d be handy sweeping as a cover defender, especially from set pieces.

    His short passing game in close during phase play might be a problem – Genia’s short-passing subtlety is top-notch – but Hooper would put his hand up for plenty of hard carries.

    Of course, his long passing and kicking would be the issue.

    But he’s extremely skilful, more so than the likes of Cane, Savea, Kriel and Warburton, so he could develop a decent long pass.

    And there are two reasons why he could probably get away with not kicking much: Cheika likes to keep the ball in hand and with Kurtley Beale back, he gives Bernard Foley a second kicking option – long and short.

    When David Pocock returns next year, does Cheika keep Pocock, a phenomenal pilferer at openside flanker, at No.8 to accommodate Hooper? It’s probable and they have proven they’re a formidable combination.

    Could Hooper become a No.9? Someone suggested he could be turned into a decent No.12 or No.13. It’s crazy.

    I suppose when the Wallabies are struggling, desperate theories ensue. But then again, perhaps a more abrasive halfback might be the way to go. Shake up the system. Revolution, man. Expand the mind.

    Will Knight
    Will Knight

    An AAP writer for more than a decade, Will Knight does his best to make sense of all things cricket, rugby union and rugby league, all while trying to have a laugh along the way. You can find him on Twitter @WKnightrider.

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