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What Aussie 7s ace expects from debutant Michael Hooper at Hong Kong Sevens

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

It almost feels wrong to describe Australian rugby great Michael Hooper as a rookie, but it’s true. After a glistening international 15s career which included four John Eales Medals, the man known as ‘Hoops’ is hours away from another professional rugby milestone.

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At 32 years of age, Michael Hooper will follow in the footsteps of giants by playing at the prestigious Hong Kong Sevens. Australians Tim Horan and David Campese have had the honour, as have All Blacks legends Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen.

This event is special. Revered by so many around the world, there’s a reason that fans travel from all over to be part of the incredible long weekend at the Hong Kong Sevens.

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But for ‘rookie’ Michael Hooper, this one means more. Already regarded as one of the greatest Wallabies in the history of Test rugby, Hooper will venture down a different path as a debutant on the SVNS Series.

Hooper, whose Wallabies career came to a heartbreaking end last year after being left out of the Rugby World Cup squad, first trained with the Australian sevens men’s side in November but an Achilles injury delayed an international call-up.

But after being included in the squad for the leg at the spiritual home of rugby sevens, ‘Hoops’ will debut. There’s a lot of interest and intrigue surrounding Hooper but his Australian teammates don’t want the SVNS convert to reinvent the wheel.

“Just do his job. Hoop is a tough carrier, he’s great in contact and he’s great around the breakdown. That’s all we need from him,” Australia’s Matt Gonzalez told RugbyPass at Hong Kong Stadium on Wednesday.

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“We don’t need extravagant, we don’t need flair. We just want him to do his job and carry hard, tackle hard and make a few pilfs – do what he’s absolutely good at.”

Finn Morton spoke with Australia’s Matt Gonzalez ahead of Micahel Hooper’s debut on the SVNS Series. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

With Hooper now among their ranks, the Aussies are looking to bounce back in Hong Kong China after a tough run at the season’s two most recent events in Vancouver and Los Angeles.

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Australia failed to win any of their pool matches against Antoine Dupont’s France, the United States of America and a valiant Samoa side at Canada’s BC Place Stadium.

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While they improved a week later with a quarter-final berth, a shock defeat to Great Britain saw the men in gold bow out sooner than many would’ve expected as they were the favourites for that clash.

“Vancouver was one that we take a few things out of,” Gonzalez added.

“We really turned it around within a week and played really good footy for three games and unfortunately we got to the quarter-final and lost our way a little bit.

“The thing with sevens is you drop one game and it can drastically change where you end up on the table.

“There’s always learnings to take out of every tournament whether we come second or seventh.

“I think we’ve just got to take away what we got out of those pool games and put that across six games and not just three or five.”

But with all that in the past, and the lessons now surely learned, the Australians turn their focus to this weekend’s highly anticipated swansong event at “the Mecca of sevens.”

For the last time, Hong Kong Sevens will host this leg of the SVNS Series. Kai Tak Sports Park will stage the event from 2025.

“It’s massive. I’ve said it a few times, it’s the Mecca of sevens. Everyone on the circuit wants to play here, everyone that’s in Hong Kong wants to come and watch it.

“I think it’s just going to be unbelievable, especially on that Saturday, just unbelievable to run out to. (When) people are screaming at you, that south stand is going off.

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“Everyone wants to be here and everyone wants to play in this leg.”

Australia will come up against a desperate Fiji side in their opening match. The Fijians have parted ways with Ben Gollings, with Olympic gold medallist Osea Kolinisau stepping up as their new coach.

Fiji won the Hong Kong Sevens five times on the bounce from 2015 to 2019 but have not won the event since. Considering how their season has gone to date too, this is a side hungry to turn things around on one of the biggest stages in the sport.

“They’re going to be absolutely firing and we’ve spoken about that. We’ve got to come out with a mentality that we want it more.

“There’s been a lot of that chat around training (and) our meetings and stuff like that about how bad do you want it and how much does this mean to you and the people back home?

“Fiji is going to be a tough first game but you couldn’t ask for something better… the crowd’s going to be going crazy.”

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