SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia captain Michael Hooper has ticked “all the boxes” in terms of his return from a serious hamstring injury and expects to last the entire 80 minutes against New Zealand in the Rugby Championship opener in Sydney on Saturday.
Hooper has not played since suffering the injury in the Wallabies’ 2-1 series loss to Six Nations champions Ireland in June.
It was the first serious injury of the 26-year-old’s career, who often plays the entire 80 minutes for both the Wallabies and New South Wales Waratahs. He expects to be able to last the full match on Saturday (kickoff 1005 GMT).
“I feel really ready and can’t wait for tomorrow,” he told reporters on Friday after the Wallabies’ final training run at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium.
“It’s one of those things; you tick all the boxes, you get to a point, I’m sitting here today feeling great about what I can do and I think I can make a difference in the game.
“I’m going to come out guns blazing.”
Hooper will be joined in the Wallabies’ loose forwards by the returning David Pocock at the back of the scrum and Lukhan Tui as the blindside flanker.
Coach Michael Cheika’s preference to play both Hooper and Pocock has created some issues for the Wallabies, with both being openside flankers and considered small for modern international loose forwards.
The pair, however, prove a handful at the breakdown with their ability to get over the ball and either turn it over or slow the speed of their opponents’ attack.
The inclusion of the 1.98m tall Tui, who can also play lock, will provide a valuable lineout option and bulk and aggression at the breakdown, where Hooper expects a battle against Kieran Read, Sam Cane and Liam Squire.
“The speed of the ruck is so important at test level,” Hooper said. “Yes, set piece has a part in handling momentum.
“But being able to maintain our ball and slow their ball is paramount. We know what they can do with ball in hand and we’re fully capable of scoring points (with possession).
“So getting that area sorted is paramount, but the Kiwi players are very good there as well.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)