By Jack Tarrant
YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) – The fate of this year’s Bledisloe Cup has already been decided but Australia captain Michael Hooper wants his side to look at Saturday’s clash with New Zealand in Yokohama as a chance to lay down a marker for next year’s Rugby World Cup.
The Wallabies are coming off a disappointing third-place finish in the Rugby Championship, where they narrowly avoided the wooden spoon, and lost the opening two Bledisloe encounters to the All Blacks in Sydney and Auckland.
With less that a year to go before Japan hosts the World Cup, however, Hooper said that even Saturday’s dead rubber had meaning.
“We are out there tomorrow to build as a team,” Hooper said on Friday.
“It has been a narrow focus for us this week and we get the opportunity to play the number one team in the world. We are competitive blokes, we are in a high-performance environment so you want to be doing that.
“You want to be in these situations, out there when the lights are on.”
In both previous tests between the teams the match had been tight going into the closing stages, only for the All Blacks to romp home comfortable winners.
“We need to defend better for longer and attack better for longer,” said Hooper.
“In both games we put in some really good minutes. For the first one in particular, we were 55 minutes into the game with the lead and it is closing down to the point of the game where you almost get a W (win) next to the scorecard.
“Obviously, it is not enough. That is what it comes down to for us — doing our systems, doing our shapes, for longer. Putting the opposition under pressure, derailing what they have in plan and in store for us longer in this game tomorrow night.”
Saturday’s game will also see Sekope Kepu become the first Australia prop to win a 100th test cap and Hooper paid tribute to the 32-year-old, who made his first international appearance in 2008 and has scored four times for his country in that span.
“Considering he is the first prop to do it, in Australia, is a huge feat,” said Hooper, who has 87 caps.
“The way that he plays is that he is a dynamic prop, you have all seen some of the tries he has produced in his time.
“He is a real competitor, a real competitor when he is out there. I am excited to see him tomorrow night out there doing what he does.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)