The 'lonely' challenge the Wallabies must overcome to beat England
Michael Hooper reckons that, encircled by 80,000 people, Twickenham’s going to feel a lonely place for him and his Wallabies team – and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Australia’s captain is adamant England aren’t the most difficult opponents he’s had to face in his distinguished international career – “we play the Kiwis three times a year,” he shrugs – but the cold fact is that his record against them is his worst against any country.
In 11 matches against England stretching back nine years, he’s come off best just twice. That’s a win percentage of 18.18% – even more dismal than his record against the All Blacks.
Yet Hooper is adamant that “every opportunity is a new opportunity” and he’s dismissive of England coach Eddie Jones’ suggestion on Thursday that Australians have an “inferiority complex” when it comes to sporting contests against the “mother country”.
“I can’t speak for Eddie, I can’t speak for our guys – but I don’t feel that way,” Hooper told reporters on Friday morning.
He’s confident his side can upset the odds – but only if they can raise their level from last week’s underwhelming loss to the Scots at Murrayfield.
Asked how much better his patched-up Wallabies are going to have to be to earn their first win over England in the Jones era after seven straight defeats, Hooper said: “We’re going to need to be right at our best.
“What an occasion it’s going to be. England’s win against the Tongans last week was a glimpse of what it’s going to be like. A lot of our guys haven’t played up here and last week was the biggest crowd for some to face, and a vocal crowd as well.
“This week’s going to be a level up from last week. For the 15 of us out there and the finishers, it just feels like it’s going to be pretty lonely in there – and that’s a great place to be.
“We want to lay down a performance that we’re really proud of and our fans are proud of as well.
“It’s going to take some doing to win tomorrow, there’s no question, but these are the games you dream to be a part of as a young bloke, so we’re pretty excited.”
Pondering why the Wallabies’ record has been so poor against Jones’ England, Hooper said: “I can’t give you an answer – the team changes every year and though our record hasn’t been great, every opportunity is a new opportunity and a new game.
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“The ledger’s square tomorrow when we run out.”
It’s a long time since Hooper tasted victory over the English but his two victories did both come at Twickenham – back in 2012 and, even more satisfyingly, in the 2015 World Cup.
“It really feels like a long time ago, so I won’t reflect on them much at all, just like the history on the other (losing) side of the coin. It’s a new game tomorrow.”
He’s particularly excited for potential Wallaby debutant, prop Ollie Hoskins, who’s been plucked from English club rugby because of the injury problems in the pack and is set to make an unexpected debut off the bench.
“What a great story,” he said. “In terms of how much it means to someone like that and for all of the rest of us reflecting on that, it’s really cool.”
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