By the time the Wallabies run out onto Sky Stadium in Wellington to kick-off their 2020 campaign in just under three weeks, it will have been 358 days since they last played a test match.
When they make their first appearance of a disruptive year, though, newly reinstated captain Michael Hooper will be hopeful of overturning a poor run of results against the All Blacks on October 11.
The match, the opening fixture of the Bledisloe Cup series, not only acts as a chance for the Wallabies to register just their sixth victory over their trans-Tasman neighbours since 2010, but it will also be Hooper’s 100th test for Australia.
For a player that has given his all for his country since debuting as a 20-year-old in 2012, there would be no better way to celebrate such a significant milestone than by picking up a win on Kiwi soil for the first time in 19 years.
As deserving as Hooper is of reaping such rewards, the veteran flanker is refusing to lose focus on what looms as the dawn of a new era for the Wallabies under the guidance of new head coach Dave Rennie, noting that his side has “to get our s*** together”.
“It would be nice, wouldn’t it,” Hooper said shortly after the announcement of his retention as Wallabies skipper on Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes into a win across there [in New Zealand]. Look, I think that it’s something that you know you’re on 99 [tests], but there’s a lot to do right now.
“That’s something that after the game you’re able to reflect on and I don’t want to get too caught up in that. There’s a lot to do at hand.
“Yeah, that’s nice for myself and my family, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s much more important, and that’s how we come together in that first game.”
Just how the 44-man Wallabies squad, which features a whopping 16 uncapped players, gels together leading into the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship remains to be seen.
However, Hooper believes Friday’s trip to New Zealand, whereby his side will undergo a two-week quarantine period in Christchurch, will go a long way to bringing his teammates up to speed with one another.
Tasked with assigning roommates for his squad’s stay in the South Island, Rennie has chosen to pair his senior team members with less-experienced players, with Hooper sharing a room with young Reds loose forward Fraser McReight.
The uncapped 21-year-old was a standout for Queensland in their run to the Super Rugby AU final, and will likely act as a direct competitor to Hooper for the openside flanker role, with Rennie confirming that he sees his captain strictly as a No. 7.
Hooper is excited by the blend of youth and experience within the Australian camp, and highlighted McReight as a youngster that could make a hefty contribution to Australian rugby moving forward.
“I think the guy’s got huge potential,” he said of McReight. “You can really learn a lot in this environment quick.
“We have the opportunity to make both of each other better and improve as players, so we’ll be looking to do that.
“Being in such close proximity on and off the field, with the quarantine that we spoke about, we’ll have a lot of time with our counterparts.
“There’s a lot of us, 44 [players], so you’re having like three guys, maybe even more, in one position, so we’ll treat this two to three months as a real chance to improve all of our abilities.”
That optimistic sentiment was one that Hooper reinforced when looking ahead to Australia’s first-up clash with the All Blacks in the New Zealand capital.
“We’ve got to focus on ourselves. We are focussing on ourselves at the moment and how we can grow our game,” he said.
“Like I said, we’ve got a short period of time, so our focus needs to be dedicated to what we can control and everything like that.
“We’ve got a little journey to get us to that first Bledisloe, and that’s a really unique challenge that none of us have experienced before.”
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