The lifeless Waratahs sprung to life last night at the SCG racing to a 38-0 lead after 35-minutes to bury the Queensland Reds early in a heap of misery.

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The underperforming Tahs had many question marks, none as big as whether Michael Hooper would be able to retain his Wallabies captaincy and number 7 jersey under Dave Rennie with the impressive form of the other loose forwards in the competition.

The Reds had Super Rugby AU’s hottest back row, with Liam Wright, Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson all putting their hands up to become Wallaby debutants this season.

Wright and McReight were first and second respectively in the competition in turnovers won, and had embarrassed the Waratahs back row earlier this season at Suncorp.

The Reds trio won the turnover battle 4-0 in Brisbane over Hooper and his fellow Waratahs loose forwards in a 32-26 Queensland victory.

However, it was an inspired performance by Michael Hooper last night to lead his side to dominant victory over the Reds.

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Fans noticed just how visibly happy the Wallabies captain was and how much it meant to the Waratahs to see Hooper have such influence in the game, rushing to support the captain after securing a turnover.

The Wallaby captain also had an inspiring moment to chase down Reds centre Hunter Paisami to save his side a try on the stroke of halftime, before getting up for a second effort to disrupt the halfback and force an error.

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Hooper’s performance will boost his stock for the time being but even in a losing side his opposite Liam Wright did himself no harm.

Aside from his industrious work around the park winning three turnovers, Wright towers over Hooper in height and was the Reds top line out option with five takes. He also completed 9/9 tackles at a 100% completion rate.

A major criticism of the Pocock-Hooper duel selection by the Wallabies in recent years is it robbed them of a legitimate back row line out option, with Hooper used in a makeshift fashion towards the front.

In all areas, Wright has played statically better than Hooper with a tackle completion of 94% versus Hooper’s 87%, while making dominant hits at higher rate 22% versus 20%.

The Reds open side has a competition leading 12 turnovers won compared to Hooper’s 6, primarily due to also being a threat at line out time where he has won 5 steals.

Wright is the Reds top line out target, with the third most takes in the competition.

Hooper may have won the battle this time but time will tell whether he has lost the war for the Wallabies number 7 jersey.

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