Wallaby flanker Michael Hooper says winning this weekend’s clash with England at Twickenham would be a big boost ahead of a huge year in 2013.
Hooper and co arrive in London on the back of a comprehensive defeat to France but victory at the headquarters of English Rugby would see them back on track in the build up to next summer’s Lions tour.
The Wallabies are desperate to head into the mouth-watering match up with Britain and Ireland’s elite on the back of a string of far better performances than they produced against the French, and Hooper insists there is no better time to start than this Saturday.
“Every game is important to us but this game is obviously a big one,” said Hooper, whose team also face Italy and Wales in their final few fixtures prior to the arrival of the Lions.
“A win would put us on a new level going into the rest of the tour. We’ve got three games left now and getting three wins would be a real boost for Australian Rugby.
“Last week’s gone and it’s all about this week. England had a great game against Fiji – it was a good win, they put points on the board and their tails will be up. But it’s all about this weekend and we’re planning on making some new history at Twickenham.
“We have a great feeling in the squad and that’s been the case for the X number of weeks that I’ve been involved. Every week we’re ready to play. We’re all pumped up and we’re all ready to go – we’re excited by the opportunity.”
Hooper has more reason than most to be excited by the prospect of running out at Twickenham in front of capacity crowd.
The young openside has English blood in his veins as his father David lived on these shores until his mid twenties.
And while Hooper insists there was never any prospect of him representing anyone other than the Wallabies, he admits there could be a family feud of sorts at the stadium this Saturday.
“There’s no divided loyalties, it’s all about Australia. My dad came out halfway through his life and is an Australian citizen – he wouldn’t be allowed back in the house if he was supporting England!” added Hooper.
“But my grandparents and my dad’s brother will also be there and they’re all English so I’m not sure what flag they’ll be waving, although I hope it’s an Australian one.
“To play at Twickenham is apparently one of the best things you can do as a rugby player so I’m really excited about that. There’s a good rivalry between the two nations and for me there’s that special importance.”
Michael Hooper has been one of Australia's best players in 2012
Hooper’s journey to Twickenham this autumn has been a remarkable one. Last season’s Australian U20 player of the year only joined up with the senior squad this summer but he has already made a real impression at the top level.
Consistently voted among his country’s top performers by his peers ever since his debut against Scotland in June, Hooper has become a key part of the Wallaby back row.
David Pocock’s knee injury and subsequent calf problem has created the opportunity for his understudy to shine but there was no guarantee that Hooper would have been the man to make way had Pocock been passed fit to face the English.
Such has been the standard of the 21-year-old’s 10 showings so far – Hooper was twice voted man of the match by an Australian TV station and named his team’s top player by his colleagues in three of his Rugby Championship starts – that there was talk of Pocock being switched to six or the pair playing left and right rather than open and blind this weekend.
The mere suggestion of Pocock’s role being tinkered with to accommodate the newcomer is a massive compliment, particularly when you consider the esteem Pocock is held in throughout the global game.
But while Hooper admits he has to pinch himself to prove his rise to the top is a reality he insists he was quickly encouraged to value himself as an equal member of the Wallaby set up rather than a raw recruit.
“I think the team would expect that of each player coming in. They expect the players who come in to fill those shoes to make sure nothing is missed. They’ve been really great for me, and so has Poey. He’s been very helpful in initially helping me learn the roles and in getting me used to Test-match rugby.
“This year I began just wanting to get a starting jersey at the Brumbies but it’s funny how years work out.
“It’s a dream come true, as much as that phrase is used. It’s been great fun and I’ve loved every minute of it.
“I’ve had the opportunity to play with some great team-mates here – legends of Australian Rugby in Nathan Sharpe and Stephen Moore and blokes like that – so it’s been awesome so far.”
Hooper hopes to have a big bearing on how the Aussies fare on Saturday
Whether it gets a little more ‘awesome’ or continues to become even harder work on the road will owe a lot to the battle of the breakdown on Saturday afternoon and in Florence and Cardiff in the coming weeks.
Hooper went head to head with Scotland’s Ross Rennie five months ago and he will clash with fellow Lions contenders Chris Robshaw and Sam Warburton or Justin Tipuric before heading home for a well-earned rest in early December.
Robshaw is next on the agenda for the Waratahs-bound forward, with Hooper insisting that England’s decision not to play an out-and-out scavenging seven on Saturday won’t make his life any less challenging after a particularly tough tussle with Frenchmen Fulgence Ouedraogo, Yannick Nyanga and Louis Picamoles last time out.
“The breakdown is massive. I’m sure both teams will be going hard at the breakdown and it will be a focus for us both.
“They’ve got a really good back row. Every seven has a different way of getting their ball. It doesn’t make my job any easier – I wish it was the case but it’s not like that.
“The English back row clean out and are quite brutal at the breakdown when they’re defending so they get balls back the other way. We’re obviously working on how to deal with that.
“We’ve got to hold on to our own ball and we want to try and take as much ball off them as possible. That wins Test matches in my short experience.”