Michael Hooper looks destined to surpass George Gregan as the longest-serving Wallabies captain after retaining the job under new coach Dave Rennie.
The NSW Waratahs flanker led Australia through last year’s World Cup but was no sure thing of continuing after Rennie delayed his call until the new-look squad gathered in the Hunter Valley this week.
Hooper relinquished his Super Rugby captaincy this year to veteran lock Rob Simmons but maintained he was still eager to take the national job if Rennie saw fit.
Rennie’s decision to hold back the announcement fuelled speculation he could go left-field with his choice in a squad that includes 16 uncapped players.
But Michael Cheika’s replacement said “in the end his appointment was a straight forward decision”.
“I’ve been really impressed with Hoops; we’ve spoken a lot over the past nine months and it’s highlighted his passion and commitment,” Rennie said.
“He’s a good man with an outstanding work ethic and he’s a great role model for our young men coming through.
“He’s keen to lead, and is highly respected by the Wallaby family.”
Captain for 46 of his 99 tests, only Gregan (59) and John Eales (55) have led the side on more occasions.
Denied the record when he was rested for a game at last year’s World Cup, Hooper will become the second-fastest behind New Zealand’s Sam Whitelock to go from a debut to 100 tests in Wellington on October 11.
A second Bledisloe Cup test, slated for Auckland’s Eden Park on October 18, follows before they return for six Rugby Championship Tests across NSW and Brisbane from November 7.
It’s an eight-game haul across 10 weeks – tougher than even a successful World Cup run – that would put Hooper just one game behind Eales and within reach of Gregan’s mark.
Rennie’s show of faith in Hooper means he could well be leading the side into France’s 2023 World Cup, when the breakdown menace would still only be 31.
“It’s an absolute honour to be the Wallabies captain and I want to thank Dave, the Wallabies management team as well as Rugby Australia for their support and endorsement,” Hooper, who first captained the side as a 22-year-old, said.
“It’s a privilege to wear the Wallabies jersey, I feel proud to lead my teammates and to represent those players that have gone before and all Australians.
“I’m really excited about this group and the direction we are heading. We have already spent some quality time together, defining who we are and what we stand for and what we plan to achieve in the coming months.”
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