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'He's just a freak': Former All Black pays tribute to Wallabies' best

By Sam Smith
Wallaby captain Michael Hooper during the Australia v France, 3rd Rugby Test at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Australia on Saturday 17th July 2021. Mandatory credit: © Jason O'Brien / www.photosport.nz

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While the Wallabies may have set an unwanted record in their 57-22 loss to the All Blacks last weekend, conceding the most points ever in a Bledisloe Cup clash, there was one man who continued to play his heart out in the gold jersey.

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Wallabies captain Michael Hooper, in his 110th international appearance, was a constant thorn in the All Blacks’ side, never relenting throughout the game despite his team taking a huge beating.

It was a typically courageous outing for the openside flanker, who’s faced stiff competition to wear the No 7 jersey since first joining the team in 2012, but fighting off the challenges of all and sundry to stake his name as one of the greatest openside flankers of the modern era.

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The Aotearoa Rugby Pod panel discuss the week that was.

And while a 35-point loss never looks great for a captain, it was hard to find fault with Hooper’s performance on the park. Despite his own individual effort, however, Hooper owned the loss following the game, suggesting that he as an individual needed to step up as both a player and a captain.

With a one-man advantage nearing halftime, the Wallabies failed to capitalise on a yellow card to Ardie Savea – and that quickly came back to bite them.

“[It was] our skill error, to not capitalise on that, maybe I should have taken the shot and built on that,” Hooper said following the game.

“Got a good exit and capitalised on them being a man down. I didn’t and it turned out to hurt us.

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“So I take a lot of responsibility for that and I take a lot of responsibility for not being able to rally our guys in order to get a better outcome in that pretty pivotal 10 minutes. It’s something that as captain I’ve got to look at.”

Hooper has been widely praised for his performance, however, with former All Blacks hooker and Super Rugby centurion James Parsons speaking out in favour of the Wallabies No 7.

“He’s just a freak. He’s such a good player to watch,” Parsons said on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“I think [former Wallabies hooker] Jeremy Paul, during the week before this test match, said ‘If he was playing in any other era, he would be held as one of their best players ever’. If he was playing in a winning side or through that era of Larkham and Gregan, like Jeremy Paul was saying, [he would be considered one of the best].

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“He’s just unbelievable. His skillset, his ability to offload in contact, work off the ball…

“His ownership – if you listen to him after the game, he takes a lot of ownership on himself and where he can be better. He never points fingers. Those are the sorts of blokes that you want to follow and you want to get into the trenches with. His level of play on the field is quality. What he’s offering off the field, in terms of leadership, I think’s massive as well.”

Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall agreed, suggesting that Hooper’s attitude and ownership should have Wallabies fans confident their skipper can lead them away from their poor recent results against the All Blacks.

“If you’re an Australian supporter and obviously pretty disappointed with how the result went, you’ve got a captain at the front of it saying ‘We need to be more accountable, I need to be better, we need to be better’, then you kind of accept that as a supporter,” Hall said.

“Dave Rennie’s talked around a lot [how] they want to win – they’re not there just to participate. As a captain, you can be able to give that vulnerability and being able to show your fans and, more so, your group as well, that this is not good enough but as a captain I’m going to take this accountability and somewhat take the heat off the players that are probably going to be getting it a bit in the media.”

The Wallabies are due to host the All Blacks in Australia next weekend but New Zealand’s current Covid outbreak could put that plan at risk.

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'He's just a freak': Former All Black pays tribute to Wallabies' best

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