Michael Hooper retained as Wallabies captain as Dave Rennie opts for status quo
Michael Hooper is poised to surpass George Gregan as the longest-serving Wallabies captain after new coach Dave Rennie resisted the urge to “change the furniture” and retain him in the top job.
The NSW Waratahs flanker led Australia to last year’s underwhelming World Cup quarter-final exit and 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 Hooper had first won him over with his on-field form then confirmed his leadership status in the conversations since.
A proponent of co-captains while coaching at club level, Rennie said a solo skipper – flanked by an unofficial leadership group – worked better in a national set-up and was confident Hooper would “dominate his position” to avoid any awkward selection dramas.
“Hoops has been excellent and he’s tough, passionate about the team and he ticks a lot of boxes for us,” Rennie said. “He’s still going to have to earn the right to play and he’s done that so far, but we’re not scared to make tough decisions. We’re planning on going in a new direction, but it doesn’t mean you need to change the furniture totally.”
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 11 October.
A second Bledisloe Cup Test, slated for Auckland’s Eden Park on 18 October, follows before they return for six Rugby Championship Tests across NSW and Brisbane from 7 November.
It is 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.
“I was a kid who looked up to the Wallabies – your John Eales, George Gregans – and to be sitting in a similar role is a privilege,” he said. “It’s on the timeline isn’t it, that World Cup. I’ve been in two cycles of them now and know how quickly they can come around.
“Yes, we have this nice big cherry [in 2023], but it starts right now with two Bledisloe Cup games in New Zealand in three weeks.”