Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has called on his team to maintain their intensity for the full 80 minutes to avoid a harrowing 3-0 Bledisloe Cup clean sweep at the hands of the All Blacks.
Hooper, who is two Tests away from joining George Gregan as the most capped Australian skipper with 59 Tests in charge, reflected on the pain of defeat as the Wallabies looked ahead to Sunday’s showdown in Perth.
He also spoke about where Australia must improve, the key men on his team and the visit of Australia’s cricket coach Justin Langer to Wallabies training on Saturday.
Here’s everything Hooper said at Saturday’s pre-match press conference about Sunday’s game.
On what losing means to him personally
“It bloody hurts, straight up,” Hooper said.
“When you have a defeat you want to get back on the park really quick which has been tricky about this block, because it seems like a long time since we’ve been able to get on the field and turn things around.
“That’s been hard. You want to play and you want to back that up. But you’ve got to try and shake the hurt feeling and turn it into motivation.
“Once the result’s done, it is done. You can’t change the past. So okay, what can we focus on to turn things around and make it a win in our favour?
“And learning that there’s plenty of opportunities and some good things – so taking the good things, moving on, and then there’s stuff that didn’t go great. Getting the learning opportunities there and staying strong with it.”
On the difference between the teams this campaign
“New Zealand have been able to withstand pressure better, and then also relieve it better for themselves,” Hooper said.
“You look at that period in the second match, where it was five points in the balance, there’s a couple of errors made on our behalf and they’re able to turn that – even with 14 men on the field – into a real advantage for them.
“We reviewed that to about a 12 or 13 minute block where the game was won and lost, so it’s those sort of margins, the compounding errors and the ability to swing back momentum that’s pretty critical.
“They’re a pretty refined machine in terms of delivering on what they need to. They’ve got some great athletes, no question, but so do we.
“And we’ve got to stick at that stuff for longer.”
On the so-called ‘brutal’ review post Bledisloe 2
Wallabies halfback Tate McDermott spoke of the team’s ’embarrassment’ at the nature of their Bledisloe 2 loss and the intense nature of their post-game review this week.
“We had to be [brutal],” said Hooper. “Certainly about particular times in the game. Let’s not forget there was a really good 45 minutes there. So it’s not like we’re starting from scratch.
“But it’s a fair assessment. In parts of the game we were well below average. And that showed on the scoreboard. Unfortunately it was too hard to get back.”
On what Samu Kerevi and Izack Rodda bring in their returns
“One of the positives of being in Perth for a while is these guys have an extra run-in, they’ve had a really good lead up, with longer time than we would have had to get around the systems, and get around the players,” Hooper said.
“There’s a good level of experience from both those players, two big bodies – you forget how big both of those guys are – and a great energy that they brought into the squad.
“They were both part of the [win in Perth two years ago] so there’s good memories from then.”
On Rob Valetini replacing Harry Wilson at No.8
“Physically, he’s starting to impose himself on the game,” Hooper said of Valetini.
“We saw that with a couple of really great carries and some stuff off the ball that doesn’t get paid much attention.
“Around the ruck, he’s a big, strong man and loves asserting himself.
“From, say, a year ago, I think his ability to have longer minutes in him has really been significant.
“He’s [now] an 80 minute player, which is great for us. The No.8 spot is really competitive – between him Harry, Pete [Samu] there’s plenty of guys there who can do a great job.”
On the positives they take from Bledisloe 2
“There was some really good physicality at the start of that second game,” Hooper said.
“We also had the ability to allow Tate to have some some good movement around the ruck and unlock his running game quite well.
“I think we were pretty aggressive around the ruck zones. We’ve got to deliver around the ruck and have clean ball for our backs. We have a lot of firepower in the backs if we can get the ball in their hands and then play smart rugby in the right areas of the field.”
On what playing at their best will mean
“We want a complete performance,” said Hooper.
“Dave spoke during the week around there’s been some really good things that we’ve done on the field, but just not for long enough and consistently in our games, particularly against these guys, giving away too much in a certain period.
“There are 10-15 minute periods where we compound errors and and we take our foot off the gas, and that’s hurt us significantly against these guys. So we need a complete performance and deliver throughout the 80.
“Dave said this in Auckland and it summed it up quite well – if we play at our best or near our best that forces New Zealand to play below their best.
“So you know, whatever the scoreboard is after that, you’re pretty confident that it could be in your favour.
“When we talk about a complete performance, you don’t look for perfection. You’re never going to get perfection in any Test match, but you’ve got to stay in the fight.
“You go toe to toe with a team like this, where there’s going to be things that don’t work in your favour, the ability to stay at our focus points is critical. And that’s probably where we let slide last game.”
On whether mental or physical improvement was most important on Sunday
Mental or physical
“I think we can do both better this week. Certainly, there’s some physical elements that we can improve on – getting men around the ball, supporting line breaks against and line breaks for.
“But mentally, there’s going to be times where momentum swings. You play a great team like New Zealand and they’re going to get some plays and some things that start going in their favour.
“So wrestling that back and turning it back to us is really important, but hard to do against these fellas.”
On potential changes to the Giteau Law
“There’s so many factors here that we need to work on to get it right. I think the RA, the clubs, we need we need to work on what’s best for Australian rugby. I’m sure that a lot of discussions will be going on at the moment and to try and get the balance right for that.”
On the visit of Australian cricket coach Justin Langer to team training
“In terms of players, what you get from it is seeing someone of that calibre coming on to training – it makes you feel good about what we’re doing here,” said Hooper.
“I saw him having a lot of chats with our coaching staff. He tells me he’s an absolute expert on quarantines – he’s done about eight of them. So I probably picked up a few tips may for later in the year.
“I’m sure our coaches would have picked his brains. We turned up and we had a training session to get on with so as much as you’d love to spend as much time with a bloke like that we weren’t able to. But our coaches certainly probably chewed his ear.”
On the great record in Perth, including the 2019 triumph
“It’s a completely different squad and two years ago seems like a lifetime ago with what the world was like in 2019 and running into a World Cup that year,” said Hooper.
“But it was really positive. We played a really strong performance and kept the foot on the gas in that game. There were some big calls in that game [Scott Barrett was sent off early on].
“But the ability to stay on what we wanted to do that night was great. Fast forward two years, we’ll be looking to take that into the game, continue to put the foot on the gas, deliver what we’ve spoken about and where we think we can do damage to New Zealand tomorrow.”