Former Wallabies loose forward Stephen Hoiles has fired back at critics of Michael Hooper’s captaincy credentials, labelling the veteran flanker as “probably the strongest [leader] we’ve had over a decade.”
In doing so, Hoiles has joined current Wallabies playmaker Matt Toomua to publicly back the incumbent Australian captain as his leadership has come under scrutiny.
A string of lacklustre results, including a World Cup quarter-final defeat to England last year, has seen the Wallabies plummet to seventh place on the World Rugby rankings.
Incoming boss Dave Rennie has subsequently acknowledged that he is coming into the job with a clean slate as he looks to revive the national side, announcing earlier this year that no player is safe from retaining their place in his squad.
That extends to 99-test Hooper, who first captained the Wallabies as a 22-year-old six years ago.
Although he supported Rennie’s right to select whoever he deemed right for the job, Hoiles was adamant that Hooper should be kept on as Wallabies skipper.
“He’s probably the strongest we’ve had over a decade without doubt,” Hoiles, who played 16 tests for the Wallabies between 2004 and 2008, told RUGBY.com.au.
“I just don’t think it’s justified people questioning that whole ‘should he be Wallaby captain?’”
“It’s a no-brainer.
“He’s a phenomenal leader.”
Hoiles’ sentiments echo that of Melbourne Rebels playmaker Toomua, who played alongside Hooper at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.
Referencing England’s rise from a pool stage exit five years ago to beaten finalists in Japan last November, Toomua likened that journey to that of the Wallabies, noting that Hooper could be the man to lead Australia out of their current slump.
“Yes, it hasn’t been the most successful time but these are learning moments for him,” Toomua said.
“I’d caution against (a change). He just has a wealth of knowledge and experience and that’s all a part of it.
“I look back to England in 2015 and then where they went to in 2019, I don’t think they get to the final in 2019 if they don’t experience that hardship and, to me, that’s how I see our journey with Australia as well.
“It’s all a part of the story and whilst we have a new coach and a new chapter, there’s still going to be a lot of players who were a part of both campaigns and won’t be scarred but will learn from the past.
“He’s been captain of Australia under the one coach, he’s done a great job, now he’s going to have a new coach and he’ll learn more and he’ll develop.
“From my point of view, I do. I think it’s a no-brainer but we obviously have a new coach with new ideas and he’s a lot smarter than I am.”
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