'Captain Invincible' Hooper leads Wallabies by example

High-scoring and tough-tackling flanker - who rarely gets injured - skippers Australia in his own understated way.

ODAWARA, 15 Oct - There is setting an example as a captain and then there is Michael Hooper.

In the 107 tests Australia have played since the flanker made his debut, he has appeared in 98, started 92 and - before being withdrawn from the bench for their final pool match against Georgia on Friday - missed just one due to injury. 

David Pocock, a fellow ball-scavenging specialist and one of Hooper's predecessors as skipper, generates more headlines, partly due to his outspoken nature on a wide range of social and environmental issues.

But if Australia are to overturn the odds and beat England in their quarter-final on Saturday, there is no doubt who will be at the heart of the action.  "He’s fantastic for us, leads by example. I don’t need to rattle off a lot of what he does, you guys all know that," prop Scott Sio said on Tuesday. 

One of the things Hooper does is put his body time and time again into those areas that make viewers wince. Right from the moment he made his first start for the Wallabies against Scotland in June 2012, the NSW Waratahs man has made the breakdown his own.

Yet somehow he hardly ever gets injured and never lets his level drop, his seeming invincibility amazing his back-row teammates. 

"The biggest thing that always sticks out about 'Hoops' is not just that he looks after his body so he can play every week and play for 80, but the level he plays at consistently is pretty amazing in Super Rugby and at Test level," said Jack Dempsey

"It's definitely something you can try to emulate, but he's another level."

This quiet but unrelenting determination marked Hooper out as captaincy material from the beginning. In 2014, at the age of just 22, he became the youngest Wallaby to be handed the armband in 53 years before taking over on a permanent basis in 2017.

While he is not a man to deliver rousing speeches, the team listens when he steps up. 

"What he’s good at is choosing his time to speak, he understands that we have different personnel that talk at different times of the game as well," Sio said.

"So understanding when to inject himself is quite important and he’s got a great grip on that."

Defence is the rock upon which Hooper has built his career, the point from which he demands unilateral respect. And his skills in this often game-defining area are showing no signs of abating.

Despite it being the season in which he notched up his 100th appearance, Hooper made an eye-watering 223 tackles in Super Rugby in 2019, more than any other player.

 He is far from one-dimensional. His 19 test tries to date, two of which came in the pool stage at RWC 2019, make him the highest-scoring Wallaby forward of all time. 

While Pocock is rightly lauded for his once-in-a-generation ball-playing skills, it is Hooper who has forced successive coaches to name both of them in the same team.

The famed 'Pooper' axis has started 26 times together and despite it not resulting in a pile of victories for the Wallabies - who won 12 and lost 14 of those tests - head coach Michael Cheika can rarely bring himself to leave one of them off the team sheet. 

Sio knows exactly who he will look to during those crucial quarter-final moments. 

"He backs us all 100 per cent which is what you like to look to in a leader when you are out there," the 61-cap man said. 

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