Former skipper Michael Hooper is determined to be ready if needed for the World Cup despite his selection snub by Eddie Jones.
Jones opted to leave the 125-cap veteran from his eye-catching 33-man squad last week. Hooper has been battling a calf injury but Jones acknowledged he might have been fit enough to play in the warm up match ahead of the World Cup in 11 days time.
New Zealand and South Africa are among the teams to pick injured stars on the thinking they would be ready later in the seven week tournament.
While Hooper did not feature in an Australia A team named on Tuesday, he has not given up the ghost on appearing at the tournament, according to Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh.
“I’ve spoken to Michael. He’s pretty pragmatic and positive about the fact that he’ll keep training hard and if he gets the opportunity somewhere along the line that someone gets injured he’ll be ready to go, and that pretty much sums up his career in my view – just that positivity he’s gone into everything with,” Waugh told The Roar Rugby Podcast.
“[He’s] been phenomenal service to the game – 125 Tests and just won his eighth Matt Burke Cup with the Waratahs. It’s just this massive, massive career but equally he’s suffering that calf strain which is as you get older those injuries just take a little bit longer than they should.”
Hooper is out of contract at the end of the year and the drums are beating on a potential deal to have him play at the Paris Olympics next year.
“He’s got some real serious consideration around whether he wants to go to Paris with the Olympic team and the sevens and if you think about the athlete that he is, he could transition probably a lot easier than a lot of others could.
“With a player and athlete and ambassador like Hoops it’s really important for us to support his ambition and his transition.
“He epitomises the way that Australians should go about sport in terms of that never say die attitude and keep fighting for as long as you can. And that’s what he does. We’re very open to supporting him in whatever he chooses in the transition period.”
While Hooper looks like he hasn’t given up on the gold jersey, it’s still unsure what the future holds for Quade Cooper, who was surprisingly left out of the Cup.
“Eddie thinks a lot about the game and is incredibly loyal. And so I think the first couple of Tests matches, he was very loyal to players who served the game really well,” said Waugh.
“When we didn’t get the results … Eddie [started] shaping the side for what he thinks can be most competitive in France.
“And there’s been quite a shift, when you think about the team that took the field in Pretoria to the side they will take the field in Paris.
“He’s gone with youth. He thought ‘ I feel like I can get a lot out of this group in a short period of time. But also, I can look forward to the Lions and I can look forward to a Home World Cup in 2027’, similar to what potentially the French did going into the 2019 World Cup teeing themselves up for 2023.
“So I think he’s sort of had a reset moment. He genuinely believes we can win the World Cup this year as well. Maybe some people think that’s really optimistic. But the way World Cups work out, once you get a bit of momentum, you get some combinations occurring, then anything can happen. I think it’s an exciting time for Australian Rugby.”
Waugh acknowleged the squad was not what he expected.
“We stay well and truly out of selection, which is a good thing. But I think everyone sort of saw some omissions, some selections, and thought ‘that looks a little bit different’.
“But he’s been around coaching at this level for a long, long time. And he knows what it takes to perform on the big stage. So you’ve got to back the man who’s in charge of your team, and away he goes.”
Podcast host Harry Jones questioned the decision to cut Cooper, saying many teams including the Springboks, would have selected him for the World Cup.
“Quade burst onto the scene – I played his first Test in 2008 against Italy. He scored the winning try with
a bit of individual brilliance,” said Waugh.
“We’re in 2023 now – it’s a long journey and a wonderful career. And I think that people underestimate what it takes to come back from an Achilles rupture back into global scene and he’s only been back for maybe two months, and the game is only getting faster and more combative.
“I think that we all expected him to rebound like he was back in 2021 when he played so well in the Rugby Championship to bounce straight back into it. I think he’s done wonderfully well just to get back out onto the field playing in that arena.
“[Bernard] Foleys another one who has been quite unfortunate.
‘”If you think about Quade and Foley and their experience and then you go with Carter Gordon who has been great combining well with Tate McDermott and then Ben Donaldson…
“I don’t think any of us have seen a lot of Ben Donaldson yet but we’re not at training every day and they’re clearly seeing something in their training every day that says actually if we do lose Carter, we’re very confident that Ben can step up on the big stage.
“In 2015 not many people were talking about Bernard Foley and he came through and pretty much took the team almost to beat the All Blacks in that World Cup final. Sometimes as administrators or rugby lovers we sit back and actually just judge a player on what I’ve seen on the playing field. These guys are training in an intense environment, day in day out and coaches are watching them and they’re seeing stuff that we just don’t get the opportunity to see.”