2012 Wallabies’ Rookie of the Year and new HSBC Waratah player Michael Hooper was kind enough to spend some time with me after training last Friday. The impression one gets from this bright and articulate young man is that rugby is fun.
How did rugby start for you, Michael?
At the Manly Roos — I started when I was 6. Can’t remember much about my first game, but it was good fun though.
Then I went to St. Pius College in Chatswood. I loved the school and I had a lot of mates — who I still talk to a lot. The footy was good and our team was always pretty decent.
I first saw you play in the 2008 Schools tournament in Canberra – a big step for you?
The biggest step for me that year was playing Opens footy, in Year 11, but the tournament was good fun and I have very fond memories of it. I did my shoulder in my last year of school  – but it worked out well when I ended up going to Canberra at the end of that year and I focussed on that.
Your old St. Pius 1st XV team mate, Luke Jones, is going OK too?
I’m great mates with Luke. We went away for New Year’s together up to Byron Bay; so I still see him a lot. He had a really good year last year and played good footy. They’re choc-a-block down there [at the Rebels] for second rowers and back rowers now, so hopefully he will get a regular starting spot.
Then in 2010 at the Brumbies your bad luck from 2009 changed?
Who would have thought George Smith would have got injured? But it was great for myself to get that experience so early on and have someone like George there to help me through that time. And it was great fun getting a try on my debut — Patrick Phibbs gave it to me on a platter and I just had to make sure I didn’t put it down.
George Smith was always a player I watched with intent when I was younger. He’s a great player: one of the best 7s — probably still the best 7 — running around. He was one of the main reasons why I went down there.
By 2011 George had gone but Julian Salvi was back and Colby Fainga’a was pushing for the spot too?
Yeah – Jules had sat behind George for years and Colby played some really good footy in that season; so it was tough to get some time on the field. It wasn’t the best year for the Brums but it was still good fun off the field.
What’s your captaincy experience?
In Juniors and at school; nothing recent. In the [IRB] Under 20s Colby was the Australian captain for the majority of the games but I captained against Fiji when Colbs didn’t play. It was good fun to captain that team; we ended up getting a good win and got into the semi-finals. It was a fun trip with guys like Luke Jones and Tom Kingston over there.
Richie McCaw is probably the benchmark for 7s but have there been other international players who have made you think ‘That guy is outstanding’?
Richie – yes, of course – and I think Francois Louw from South Africa is really good. I’ve only played him twice but he’s a different style of 7: a bigger 7, and really impressive. Most of the Aussie 7s are good at the moment; it’s always going to be tough against Poey [David Pocock] and Gilly [Liam Gill].
The French flankers were in good form against the Wallabies – but they play left and right – could you and David Pocock start in the same Wallaby team?
The French back row had a cracking game. I can’t think of their names [6. Nyanga, 7. Ouedraogo and 8. Picamoles] but their Number 8 was very hard to contain.
I think so [that both he and Pocock could start] — they’ve done it in the past with George [Smith] and Phil [Waugh] but time will tell and it all depends who they want to pick for the areas they want to focus on for certain games. It’s always going to be tough and there’s never going to be a definite answer for it.
And some test teams don’t play specialist openside flankers at all; but fellows who play 6 or 8 for their club. Will the specialist openside flanker become extinct?
No, I don’t think so — unless there are rule changes. If you go back to the World Cup, Australia was lacking that on-the-ball fetching style when Poey was injured. And I think that South Africa goes better with Francois Louw, who goes hard at the breakdown.
Do you have to ration your participations in a match?
As a 7 you try to do all you can to get involved in the game, especially at the breakdown, but if you’re getting a reward of only one in ten breakdowns it’s not worth it. You have to be accurate in choosing when to go in.