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‘Reopened a wound’: Michael Hooper reveals ‘doubt’ after sevens switch

By Finn Morton
Michael Hooper of the Wallabies looks on during The Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies at Eden Park on August 14, 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

As the new kid on the rugby sevens block, former Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has opened up about the “doubt” that’s seeped into his mind after embarking on the exciting new chapter.

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For a man who will go in history as one of the most individually decorated players in the history of Australian rugby, Hooper wasn’t going to let Rugby World Cup heartbreak define him.

Hooper, who had been named as one of Australia’s two co-captains at the start of The Rugby Championship, was left out of the Wallabies’ squad for the sports showpiece event by coach Eddie Jones.

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Jones later questioned whether Hooper – along with playmakers Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley – were good “role models” for the team, much to the surprise of rugby fans everywhere.

But harbouring ambitions of representing Australia on the international stage, Hooper isn’t done yet. Hooper has taken up a bold new opportunity that could see him become an Olympian in 2024.

Rugby Australia unveiled Hooper as the latest addition to the men’s sevens side earlier this month, with the Wallabies’ most capped captain in history set to officially join the group in January.

After 125 Tests for the Wallabies, the man affectionally known as ‘Rook’ within the sevens group has discussed his reasons for switching to the sport’s shorter format.

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“A completely new challenge. There’s a massive carrot at the end and it’s something I never thought I’d be able to even have a look at in my career which is the Olympics,” Hooper said on Stan Sport’s Rugby Heaven.

“I’ve done the same thing for a long period of time and yes it’s been exciting to push myself at that level but this is a completely different thing.

“I think that’s the main excitement for me is to try and see if I can do something else and then be good at it.”

Hooper has always had his critics, possibly more than most. Whether it was down to his perceived lack of size or the Wallabies’ poor form, some of the blame seemed to find its way back to Hooper.

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But the four-time John Eales Medallist will go down in history as one of the best to have ever donned Wallaby gold. At least as an individual, the accolades speak for themselves.

While Hooper achieved some incredible feats in 15s, switching to SVNS is an all-new ball game – so of course there’s going to be “doubt.”

“Of course there’s doubt. I thought I was gonna go to the World Cup and didn’t so you’ve reopened a wound there,” Hooper said while laughing.

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“This is our game; injury, form, selection, are you even good enough to get in the team? I’ve come in here and there is genuine guns in here and I’ve got to work my way in.

“It’s a different game. We’re passing, we’re scrumming, we’re doing the things we do in rugby but this is a different kettle of fish and that’s what’s so exciting.

“The idea that things might not work out enters my mind but it’s on me to push that down and do the work to try and make sure it doesn’t happen.”

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Poorfour 3 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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