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'He should miss some weeks': Michael Hooper wants Sam Gilbert banned

By Alex McLeod
Photo: Derek Morrison / www.photosport.nz

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Waratahs star Michael Hooper wants Highlanders first-five Sam Gilbert banned for his reckless clean out of the Wallabies captain on Sunday.

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Gilbert was red-carded in the first half of his side’s 32-20 Super Rugby Pacific defeat at Forsyth Barr Stadium last week, helping the Waratahs clinch their first win in New Zealand since 2015, and their first in Dunedin in 14 years.

The 23-year-old was given his marching orders after dumping Hooper on his head during a clean out at a breakdown in a dangerous piece of play that could end the youngster’s season with just one regular season match remaining.

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Although he has a clean judicial record with SANZAAR, Gilbert is likely to be hit with a lengthy suspension due to the lack of safety of his actions, which may rule him out of any playoffs action the Highlanders might have beyond this weekend.

That much is what Hooper is hoping for, as he told Sky Sport after the match that he was “disappointed” to be on the receiving end of Gilbert’s clean out and wanted to see him duly punished.

“I don’t wish that on anyone,” Hooper, the 118-test veteran and two-time World Rugby Player of the Year nominee, said.

“These things happen in this game but I was disappointed that it happened to me. He [Gilbert] should miss some weeks I think.”

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Losing Gilbert to suspension would put the Highlanders in a tricky situation at first-five given the added unavailability of frontline pivot Mitch Hunt.

Sidelined due to lingering concussion symptoms following his head clash with Force midfielder Richard Kahui, Hunt’s absence compounds the expected loss of Gilbert, leaving Highlanders head coach Tony Brown to dig deep into his squad.

Experienced playmaker Marty Banks was Gilbert’s replacement after his 20-minutes red card had lapsed, but has struggled to find form throughout his third stint in Super Rugby Pacific.

However, he is the likely frontrunner to don the No 10 jersey against the Rebels this weekend in a must-win clash to guarantee the Highlanders a quarter-final berth.

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The other candidate is outside back Vilimoni Koroi, who has featured just once for the Highlanders this year but has been labelled by Brown as a long-term option at first-five.

The Waratahs, meanwhile, will turn their attention to this weekend’s final round clash against the Blues in Sydney, a match that precedes a likely quarter-final showdown with the Brumbies in Canberra.

Waratahs boss Darren Coleman spoke with confidence about his side’s chances of pushing for an upset win at GIO Stadium in the wake of their victory over the Highlanders.

“That’s what we want, going over there to Canberra and beating the Brumbies,” Coleman said in his post-match press conference.

“We’ll have to see how the next week falls out, but that’s looking a pretty likely scenario and we can’t wait.

“We wanted to be the best Australian team or challenge the top Australian team in year one, and if we get the chance to do that in the first playoff, that’d be awesome.”

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