Monday 18 February 2019

'Hooperman' heads up Cheika's chargers

HOOPER: ready for battle. Pic: Sportsfile
HOOPER: ready for battle. Pic: Sportsfile

The battle lines were drawn in Brisbane all through this week.

Australia coach Michael Cheika declared Joe Schmidt's men the best Ireland have ever offered.

A list of Irishmen were wheeled out to salivate at the luxurious skills of their hosts, particularly along the three-quarter line.

The Wallabies have had a week to prepare for their first Test match of the 2018 campaign.

The Irish are weary in body and mind ahead of the last three internationals of a long season. This is best reflected in the pack of Leinster Lions that have been left to stew on the bench or left out of the argument entirely.

Is it better to be fresh or familiar? Is it easier for Australia to start as they mean to continue?

Or, is it easier for Ireland to finish what they have started in a stellar season?

The hosts' captain and openside flanker Michael Hooper had his say.

"It hasn't been smooth sailing the whole week," he said, the Israel Folau-David Pocock summit taking most of the spotlight.

But Hooper wasn't alluding to the outside world issues rather the squeezed preparation.

"That has been enjoyable in the fact we've had to come to resolutions on things and work through some stuff.

"Physically and mentally, we're footy ready."

When Irish rugby took off around the turn of the millennium, it stole a great deal of game intelligence from Australia. The Wallabies' current coach Michael Cheika was the man who worked the steel into Leinster's organisation, changing the culture forever.

Eight years later, the reign of Cheika - with the recent influence of former out-half Stephen Larkham - has been all about moving the responsibility to play back towards the players.

They have to take ownership of the plan or it simply won't work.

"The coaches don't want to just say: 'this is how we are going to play'," explained Hooper. "They want players to buy in so they are sitting down with the game managers, the lineout callers.

"And they are saying: 'this is what we can do, what do you like in this menu?'.

"It's a real collaborative venture, to try and put together the best play sheet for what we think is coming up, rather than it being a dictatorship.

"Credit to the coaches in allowing the players to do it and it's going to be a good test to see how we've taken to that challenge."

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