Friday’s Rugby News has Hooper voted Wallabies best, Pocock working his way back, more struggles for the Welsh and Eddie Jones recovering well as Japan prepares.
Hooper wins John Eales Medal
Michael Hooper has been named the Wallabies’ best player for the 2013 season, winning the John Eales Medal by an astounding 120 votes. Hooper finished on a total of 297 votes with Wycliff Palu tallying 185 and Israel Folau rounding out the top three on 177. ‘It’s good to be recognised on the field and to have guys to play out there and to go through the hard yards together,’ Hooper said.
The 22-year-old continued a strong trend of Wallaby openside winners. Thursday’s result makes it five wins in 12 years by openside flankers – with Hooper now joining previous winners George Smith (2002 and 2008), Phil Waugh (2003) and David Pocock (2010). Hooper also picked up the Australia’s Choice Award as the fans’ favourite while Folau won the Rookie of the Year Award.
Pocock almost back to full fitness
David Pocock is leading the Brumbies’ pre-season training, showing positive signs after an ACL injury ruled him out of the majority of last season. While the former Wallaby captain contemplated playing in the team’s grand slam tour of Europe next month, his surgeon eventually opted for a full pre-season. ‘Long-term injuries are always tough and this is the longest one I’ve had,’ Pocock said, lamenting the inability to lead his new franchise from the front. If the 45-Test star does return to his former best, it will be quite a selection dilemma for the Wallaby backrow.
Pocock also said that the Brumbies must ‘move on’ from ex-coach Jake White. The Brumbies board will meet on Friday to discuss whether Stephen Larkham or Laurie Fisher should take over the coaching reins.
Welsh struggle to retain players
The Welsh Rugby Union have floated the idea of offering central contracts to top internationals such as Wales captain Sam Warburton to prevent them being poached by the breakaway Anglo-French competition. This would mean that the best Welsh players would be given contracts by the WRU for next year, which would then by ‘reassigned’ back to the regions once the European tournament picture has been settled for 2014.
The WRU is pulling out all stops, drawing on the £33m ($A55.6m) earmarked to pay out to the regions over the next five years to fund the contracts. ‘It is important that any player considering his future right now fully understands the level of support the WRU is prepared to offer,’ said WRU chief executive Roger Lewis.
Eddie Jones on the mend
Former Wallabies coach and current Japan mentor Eddie Jones is recovering from his October 15 stroke and is confident that the Japanese side will give the All Blacks a run for their money. Jones has said his team is training to ‘beat New Zealand,’ with this year’s victory over Six Nations champions Wales providing a major confidence boost. The New Zealand match will continue the soaring popularity of rugby in Japan, with the match selling out the 25,000 seat Prince Chichibunomiya rugby stadium for the first time.
The match is also the beginning of their Northern Hemisphere tour, with the team then moving on to face Scotland, Gloucester, Russia and Wales all during the month of November as Japan prepare to host the 2019 World Cup.