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Wallaby Tom Hooper ‘raring to get back’ after tough debut

By Finn Morton
Tom Hooper during the Australian Wallabies training session at Sanctuary Cove on June 29, 2023 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Playing in front of a packed house at the world-famous Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria earlier this month, debutant Tom Hooper sang the Australian National Anthem with pride.

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Standing in-between Test veterans Nic White and Quade Cooper, Hooper continued to soak in the atmosphere of the occasion. In just a few minutes, the 21-year-old would officially be a Wallaby.

Halfback Nic White kicked off proceedings in the early house of a Sunday morning in Australia, and Hooper ran after the ball in unison with his international teammates.

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But unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan.

Hooper missed a couple of key tackles in the leadup to Kurt-Lee Arendse’s first try, and the flanker was beaten again just a few minutes later by flyhalf Manie Libbok.

The Australian was replaced just 30 minutes into the contest for Pete Samu. Hooper had realised a childhood dream by debuting for the Wallabies, but nothing had gone to script.

It was later revealed that Hooper had sustained an injury.

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But the young flanker is back, and will be eager to make amends against the All Blacks on the hallowed turf of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

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Tom has replaced regular co-captain Michael Hooper – no relation – at openside flanker. The Brumby was picked ahead of Queenslander Fraser McReight who started at No. 7 against Los Pumas.

Standing seemingly as tall as the Eiffel Tower, Hooper adds plenty of size to a formidable Wallabies backrow alongside blindside Jed Holloway and world-class No. 8 Rob Valetini.

Speaking with reporters in the leadup to Saturday night’s Bledisloe Cup clash, Holloway said he wants to see more of what Hooper’s been “bringing at Super Rugby” level.

“His debut was cut short by a shoulder injury and he’s been raring to get back,” Holloway said on Thursday.

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“Eddie’s put a lot of work into us for the last six days or the last seven days. He was very vocal about the issues that we have in the team and how the habits that we’ve developed over a period of time and how we need to break them. He’s definitely been hard on us when he’s seen those habits.

“Tom Hooper’s led that habit-breaking mentality because he’s just so eager. For the last six days, he’s been jumping out of his skin to be back in the gold.

“It’s interesting because it’s not a traditional Australian seven but I have no doubt the work he gets through, his mentality towards the game, he loves being in everything.

“I can’t wait to see him have a crack.”

Coach Eddie Jones is expecting “a battle of the breakdown” on Saturday, and has picked a bigger body in Tom Hooper in order to match the threat the All Blacks pose.

Coming up against a star-studded backrow trio of Shannon Frizell, Dalton Papali’i and Ardie Savea, it doesn’t get much tougher for Hooper and the Wallabies.

But the Wallabies aren’t overcomplicating it. Holloway is focused on what he brings to the side and wants his teammates to do the same.

“Tommy’s obviously quite young and eager so he’ll get around the ball quite a bit and he loves flying into things,” Holloway added.

“In terms of my role, because I’m the older head amongst those three, is just drive that energy, especially with our big boys out the middle.

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“We’re not expecting to do what Hoops does or do what Fraser does, we just want him to play his game.

“Making sure that we don’t go away from that and what our games are because that’s what we’ve been picked for – to bring that. That’s what Eddie wants from us.”

Coach Jones has made seven changes to the starting side to play New Zealand, including a new-look halves duo of Tate McDermott and Carter Gordon.

McDermott replaces veteran Nic White in the lineup, while Gordon has been picked ahead of Quade Cooper for his first start at Test level.

“I’ve been super impressed with Carter all year. The development that he showed in year one at the Rebels to this year is astronomical. His rise has been unbelievable.

“I’m so excited for him to get his shot and same as Tommy Hooper. I think change is always good.

“Our bench, with the guys coming off, bringing that experience because that’s something that we haven’t really done well – our bench coming into the game and really controlling it.

“Having guys like (James Slipper) Slips, (Nic White) Whitey coming on that can really bring that cool collectiveness and help us finish off the game.

“I’m excited for those guys, I’m excited for Angus Bell… just can’t wait to see what we can do on Saturday.”

The Wallabies take on the All Blacks in the first of two Bledisloe Cup Tests at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday evening.

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