'In my first game, they knocked us over': Scotland never 'easybeats' for Hooper
There was a time when Scotland were supposed to be mere cannon fodder for the Wallabies – but Australia’s captain Michael Hooper has only ever known them to be the fiercest and most skilled of Bravehearts.
As he prepared to lead his side into Scotland’s Murrayfield den in his 117th international on Monday morning (AEDT), Hooper couldn’t help but reflect on how his Test career had begun in such soggy fashion against the same opponents nine years ago.
Asked about those days when Scotland would habitually get hammered by Australia – 16 successive times between 1982 and 2006 – Hooper made it sound as if it was ancient rugby history that had completely passed him by.
Because from the moment the green 20-year-old flanker stepped into a deluge to make his Test debut on a rain-sodden night in Newcastle, the Scots have given him nothing but trouble.
“If I ever felt that way (that the Scots were easy touches), it would have been foolish of me,” pondered Hooper.
“In my first game, they knocked us over in our backyard in Newcastle. So I’ve never had that sentiment towards Scotland.
“They’ve been a quality team, who can really grind you down through really good rugby and they have some real attacking flair. There’s never been any feeling of underestimating them.”
On that fateful night in appalling conditions at Hunter Stadium, Greig Laidlaw knocked over a penalty with the last kick of the game to earn Scotland a 9-6 victory – their first win in Australia for 30 years.
And ever since then, there’s been little to choose between the two sides, with Hooper having won three and lost three against them.
He’s experienced the high of defeating the Scots in a heart-stopping World Cup quarter-final at Twickenham but last time out in 2017, also suffered a humbling 53-24 defeat at Murrayfield – Australia’s second straight defeat by the Scots and their heaviest loss.
“Obviously, the last outing here was a tough old day at the office,” shrugged Hooper.
“It’s one of the places we love playing at over here – it’s a cracking stadium, loud and full crowd, so it’s exciting.”
As well as challenging. “They’ve a really quality team, with a good skill set across the park, and they’ve obviously got a fair bit of strike power coming in this week in the form of (Finn) Russell, (Stuart) Hogg and those fellows.”
But though seven British & Irish Lions will be out to test the Wallabies on the first leg of their British tour, Hooper reckons his side are in a good frame of mind to continue their five-game winning streak – their best run since their World Cup run in 2015.
“We absolutely want to continue this momentum and believe we can,” said Hooper.
“We believe we’ve got the game to stress our opposition and if we really execute that, then we’ll be in good stead.
“We want to win, we want to continue growing as a team and we want to get our European leg off to a really good start.
“Defensively, we’ve got to really be on because they’ve got players who can really hurt you.”
They include his opposite 7 Hamish Watson, the man voted the best player of this year’s Six Nations. “He’s real quality,” said Hooper.
“It’s an exciting challenge for us. To get up here and perform is our goal for us. We’ve got three games that are going to be super-tough.”
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