Tom Hooper continued his rapid rise towards a World Cup starting berth as a Wallabies backrow without Michael Hooper looks apparent – but coach Eddie Jones still has plenty of issues to resolve ahead of the tournament.
The Wallabies slumped to 0-4 in the second coming of Jones as coach in a game they will feel they should have won against a much-changed All Blacks team bailed out by replacement halves Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga as well as dominance in the scrum against an Aussie pack missing too many front line front-rowers.
Hooper has been the Australians’ find of the season – but Jones hinted he expects to see more physically from him.
“Yeah combative,” said Jones. “He’s a young guy at the start of his career. He’s got the capacity to play seven, he’s probably a better six, but certainly in the right conditions he can play seven.
“Considering he played that one Test against South Africa and he only last 20 minutes, missed Argentina, came back and played in the two Tests against New Zealand and he’s still only got half a body, mate.
“We’re still trying to find the other half of his body, so when he gets the full body he’s going to be some sort of a monster. We’re looking for it. If you find a half a body roaming around somewhere, bring it back into our dressing room.”
Jones didn’t elaborate on what he meant, but it suggests the coach feels the 22-year-old has strength to add.
Hooper’s skipper Tate McDermott was also impressed.
“I think what we’re seeing, guys like Tom Hooper and Fraser McReight, those boys are coming out of their shells, particularly Hoops,” McDermott said. “What was it? His third or fourth game and he was everywhere tonight. He was a brick in defence and he’s finding his feet in the attack side as well. Not only Hoops, but I thought the back-row was outstanding.”
Hooper got the rave reviews on The Roar Rugby Instant Reaction Podcast as well, with Jim Tucker believing the Wallabies’ World Cup backrow is locked in.
“I’m seeing the positive signs for the Wallabies and from this season the headline for me is Super Hooper,” said Tucker.
“We’ve been looking to uncover a six of quality and we’ve found one in Tom Hooper. He just goes for a full 80. There was no given on that try he scored. That’s six hard metres out from the line and he’d not going to be stopped.
“You flick down to the 76th minute and he’s ripping a ball out of the middle of a maul and getting something rolling and then having a hit up just after that, made a turnover.
“He’s a real missing element that Australia has been wanting to find. They haven’t quite grooved the back row but maybe this is the backrow that we start the World Cup with [Fraser] McReight, Hooper and Rob Valetini.”
Harry Jones agreed.
“Tom Hooper was thrown into the deep end in Test rugby, fed to the lions up in Pretoria,” Harry said on the podcast. “Smashed out of there and was a tackle machine for a while, but I think he found his attack. If we’re looking for some kind of Fardy-esque character, he might be it.”
Queensland Reds hooker Matt Faessler also impressed. He was a late replacement in the 23 for Jordan Uelese who suffered a knee injury in training on Friday and missed out. Dave Porecki’s first half injury gave Faessler a debut.
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“Matt Faessler is a big stocks rising. He’s on the plane to France now,” said Tucker.
“His throws, bang all on the spot. If you’ve got a choice between him and Uelese – and I think they’ll both go – it’s got to be Faessler ahead because Jordan’s just a little bit shy on the trigger when it comes to the perfect line out throw.”
Eddie Jones was pleased for the Reds hooker and revealed the moment he found out he was in the squad.
“Faessler was having a nice non-23 breakfast,” Jones said. “He had a bit of bacon in his mouth when he found out. We were still hopeful Jordie might get through.
“He’s our third string hooker and he’s really come on. First cap, you had Zane Nonggorr out there who’s our fourth or fifth tighthead playing his second game, so they’re great experiences for those young guys.”
Tucker’s other bright sparks was Jordie Petaia who has “really taken his chances the last two weeks.
“He did some really lovely things. Nice shuffling footwork, that little part in the offloading game that the Aussies have elevated today when they were on the front foot.
“There was one run there where he just got his legs rolling and moving in big traffic. So I think he has really nailed down a spot. If Len Ikitau comes back it’ll be on the wing but he’s just slotted into outside centre really well.”
Brett McKay was happy for Faessler to show his worth ahead of Thursday’s World Cup squad selection.
“Faessler handled it perfectly and really pleased for him because I was thinking that I can’t believe that we’ve seen this guy in the squad for a month now and he’s not got a chance. And you’d hate to have thought he won’t be selected in the World Cup squad having not even had a chance to show what he could do,” said McKay.
McKay was also impressed by Andrew Kellaway’s efforts at No.15 since replacing Tom Wright.
“Andrew Kellaway is looking more and more comfortable at fullback which I’m really pleased to see,” he said.
Eddie Jones added: “He’s had two really good games. Consider he hasn’t played for 12 weeks, that’s a pretty fair performance. For him to back up from fullback in that game and produce a really good, solid performance is a real feather in his cap.”
The 22-year-old Carter Gordon was improved on his first start in Bledisloe I while his replacement off the bench, Quade Cooper, came up with a key error to give the All Blacks the chance to win it at the death.
Cooper did, however, land a pressure penalty, while Gordon missed an easier one at a critical time.
“I feel like there’s a big decision coming as to whether it’s Gordon or Cooper and I think Gordon again has shown well and truly enough to say that ‘I’m the guy going forward,'” said McKay.
“Cooper has done a lot for this team, in his second or third coming as a Wallaby flyhalf, but he hasn’t been able to have the impact certainly coming off the bench.
“I think Carter Gordon is just doing everything asked of him and more at the moment, which has been fantastic to see.”
Harry Jones felt that Gordon, as well as he’s handling No.10, is missing a key attribute.
“No debate on how wonderfully he played and he looks really good, but in Test footy, especially in knockout matches, making your kicks is job number one for the kicker. You saw the difference in Quade, even with all the distraction of not finding the bloody tee, he still slid that over from a great distance.”
Jim Tucker is concerned that Eddie Jones hasn’t sorted out the pecking order in the halves having “that horrible hint that we’re heading towards 2019 gain, where we had [Bernard] Foley and [Christian] Lealiifano and [Nic] White and [Will] Genia and we’re chopping and changing the halves.
“Eddie’s going to have to be a really strong coach to see through the cloudiness of the nines and 10s and stay true to a partnership. He can’t just go ‘OK, I’ll have one of those and one of those’ and put them together for the first time.
“The French – [Antoine] Dupont and [Romain] Ntamack – they’ve been playing blindfolded in their sleep together for years.
“And here we are at the World Cup, and are we going to have the young guys with energy or do we have the older plodders and planners who can manipulate the game? So it’s a really tricky situation and we can’t solve it without time and we haven’t got time.”
McKay said he wanted to see “Nic White start with Carter Gordon and play the same game that McDermott has played because we know he can.
“The Brumbies have played off 10 for years we know that he can play that game. I want to see McDermott play with Cooper and see how they pair up. I want to see Ryan Lonergan get a shot here. If he’s the third halfback he’s going to be making his Test debut at a World Cup, which is a massive call.”