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Should Michael Hooper keep Wallabies Test captaincy

Michael Hooper is “revered” by his teammates and backed by the coaching staff to continue as captain despite suggestions that the Wallabies should consider a fresh voice as the team’s leader.

There was some commentary in the wake of the 2-1 series defeat to England, including from The Roar’s Harry Jones, that Hooper might be past his use-by date as a skipper, with a new approach needed to get the team over the line in close tussles.

Jones said Hooper played with more freedom for the Waratahs this season when unshackled from responsibility.

“Of course, it is a momentous thing to change captains,” Jones wrote. “But the Tahs example shows Hooper is a team player first and foremost. He might be freed up to play over the ball more, too. As a Test skipper, it can be awkward to be in the pilfer-or-be-pinged sweepstakes. adding the extra burden of leadership.”

In the Instant Reaction podcast that followed the third Test defeat, Jones was stronger.

“I’ve never been a Michael Hooper basher – the guy plays with more heart than anyone.

“I just feel there were moments in this match that the captaincy was lacking a little bit. I think Hooper should continue to play but not be the captain and find someone who is a bit more inspirational in terms of the verbals.

“At times they would continue the same thing over and over and it was too predictable for England to work out.

“It’s going to sound ridiculous but I would probably make Nic White captain. He has tactical awareness, makes a lot of good decisions and it might calm him down a bit.”

Christy Doran, writing for Fox Sports, also asked the question this week. It drew a fierce response from Drew Mitchell (paid by Stan Sport and the BBC to give his forthright opinions on the game but seemingly less accepting of others’).

The beating drums have failed to reach the ears of Scott Wisemantel, according to the Wallabies assistant.

“I don’t read a lot of media so I haven’t heard those things,” Wisemantel said when asked by The Roar about suggestions that Hooper might no longer be the best man to lead the Wallabies.

“What does Michael bring? Look, he’s smart. Tactically, on the field and in the way communicates with the referees his evolution, particularly over the last three years has been outstanding. He’s a world-class player. You look by position how other teams rate him, he’s world-class.”

For his teammates, Hooper is “revered. He’s a strong leader. He’s a great listener. And then he will compress and compartmentalise all the information. He’ll either paraphrase it back, or he’ll come up with an opinion and a strategy and we either disagree or we agree with it, and then we go in one direction, and away we go. He’s brilliant at it.”

Hooper has received some criticism for his in-game management around when to take points on offer and when to kick for the line to look for tries.

Wisemantel explained the process.

“It’s a bit of a balance. If it’s purely just coaching staff, then you’ve got not a lot of trust in your players because they’re the ones who are feeling the game.

“They’re feeling the momentum of the game. They’re feeling the twists and turns of the game so we trust our players,” Wisemantel said.

“Ultimately, it’s their decision.”

‘Love to have Eddie back’

Wisemantel, meanwhile, said he would love to see his close friend Eddie Jones return to Australian rugby in some capacity after his time is up in England.

The pair spent some hours together last weekend, drinking beer and eating fish and chips, but Wisemantel said he “wouldn’t have a clue” if Jones was harbouring ambitions to come home.

“I’d love to have Eddie back in Australia. In what capacity I don’t know. He’d be great for the game heading into 2027.  Just the way that he promotes the game. The way he drums up, I suppose business, from your (media) end, and interest,” Wisemantel said.

“I’m biased because I’m mates with him. And I’ve worked with him. At the same time, and I want to make this really, really clear so you can’t draw the bow that ‘Wisemantel wants Eddie Jones back’. Dave Rennie and this coaching staff are exceptional.

“So in what capacity? I don’t know. It could be in an ambassador’s role for Australian Rugby Union, but it’d be lovely to have Eddie back.”

He said their catch-up on Saturday was focused on footy rather than futures.

“It’s always footy, having a beer with some fish and chips and away we went,” said Wisemantel.

“It’s never about the future and ambition and where you want to go and who you want to coach. That has never, ever been part of it.”

Cheik’s changed with his assistants

The Wallabies returned to camp on the Sunshine Coast on Tuesday ahead of the two-game run to Argentina, where Rennie will match wits with Michael Cheika, who started his reign with an impressive 2-1 series win over Scotland.

Wisemantel made an interesting point about the change in approach between Cheika at the Wallabies and with Los Pumas.

“We’ve watched all their games,” Wisemantel said. “They’re playing a lot more rugby, they’re holding the ball for longer periods and they’re doing well so they’ll test our defence.

Michael Cheika, head coach of Argentina, catches the ball.

Michael Cheika, head coach of Argentina, catches the ball. (Photo by Daniel Jayo/Getty Images)

“Conversely from an attacking point of view, they’re filling the front third. There are 13 in the front line and their spacing is really broad. So we’ve got to come up with a plan to attack that.

“You are always going to have some philosophical points that you can lean on but Cheik’s changed with his assistants. You look at all the coaches with longevity in any code. I look at Sheedy, I look at Bellamy, those sorts of coaches. They all evolve by turning over their assistants. Cheik’s done that with Argentina and they’re playing some good footy.”

He added: “What he’s doing and he’s doing really well is he’s relying on the attributes that set some of his players apart where you know, whether it’s through power or skill, and then mixing it up.”

Australia will be missing key player Samu Kerevi in Argentina with him on duty at the Commonwealth Games sevens tournament starting later this week.

While Wisemantel said it was too early to talk replacement strategy, he said the team had four centres and felt it was well covered in the No.12.

“It’s marrying what you’ve got. I’m not worried about what I haven’t got,” he said. “I wish I had 10 million bucks in my account. I don’t. So I don’t worry about those things.

“We’ve got some exceptional centres – Paisami, Ikitau, Simone and Foketi. Four really good centres. So what we need to do is work out the strong points and how we can play and how we can get the best out of those blokes.

“They’ve got preferred positions and it’s not hard to find out what they are because you just go to the bloke what do you prefer? And they’ll be honest. Having said that, they can mix and match.

“Hunter has played for us at 12 but he’s also done a job for us at 13. We need blokes who are adaptable and a footballer is a footballer. Wherever they play, they can move around, they know the game and they can adapt. So we’re really big on that.

“If you’ve got a specialist 12 in general, they’re probably a better ball player than your 13 and they can take the pressure off the 10 a bit. They might be a crash ball guy at 12 and it bends the line when there’s nothing on. So it just depends how you want to play.

“There are specialist traits. However, they have to be good enough to adapt and be able to mix and match – you don’t want to be a one-trick pony.”

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