Michael Hooper has John Eales-like qualities
August 21, 2014
Australia have got the right man at last, helped by a couple of injuries © Getty Images
Michael Hooper has quickly risen up the rugby ranks to become one of the Wallabies' biggest stars. And Owen Finegan believes he can rise a deal further yet, drawing a comparison with John Eales and saying Hooper has qualities similar to those that made the Wallabies legend such a strong leader.
"He's sort of been thrown into it and he's going to have to [step up at the big moments], but he's a lot like John Eales," Finegan told ESPN. "He was always a consistent footballer, and [Hooper] doesn't make many mistakes and people can follow him. There is the opportunity for him to lead them to a win on the weekend."
Owen Finegan spoke to ESPN courtesy of HSBC, for whom he is a rugby ambassador © © HSBC (Image Supplied)
Hooper was always going to be in the running to become a Wallabies captain having taken out the Rookie of the Year award in 2012 and the 2013 John Eales Medal and the New South Wales Waratahs Player of the Year, but he was not expected to take the mantle as soon as 22 - becoming the second-youngest player to be named Wallabies captain.
"He's sort of been thrown into it a bit early both with the Waratahs and the Wallabies," Finegan, an HSBC rugby ambassador said. "With the Waratahs losing Dave Dennis and Wallabies losing Steven Moore, both were captains before him and so he got given the job.
"But it's not a position above him. He plays the same way every game, whether it be for his club or the Waratahs or the Wallabies, so he's a very consistent footballer and people can follow him and he's still learning the game."
Owen Finegan played for John Eales in the most successful Wallabies team in history © Getty Images
Hooper has been questioned over his choices during the opening Bledisloe Test, particularly his decision to ignore kickable penalties for a failed attempt to score a try shortly before half-time, Finegan says it's easy to be critical from the armchair.
"There's a lot of people questioning his decisions last weekend whether he should have taken points or taken opportunities; it's great to be an armchair critic in hindsight, but he's out there, and he can understand the game and he's got a very good understanding of the game."
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Finegan said he wasn't disappointed with the 12-all result in Sydney, even though Australia dominated possession and territory stats, but he concedes the Wallabies missed an opportunity to go 1-o ahead of New Zealand in the series.
"I, actually as an ex-Wallaby, wasn't disappointed with the result," the 55-Test veteran said.
"Obviously I was disappointed they didn't win, but the All Blacks have been a much more convincing team over the last couple of years against the Wallabies. I thought they did well to stay in the game. They had opportunities at the end to win the game but unfortunately couldn't take them; whether or not that is due to the defence of the All Blacks. But I thought it was a reasonable performance compared to previous years. It was an improvement. After the game, I thought considering all things being equal with the weather and stuff, it was a tight game and they stuck in it and did quite well.
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"It was definitely a missed opportunity for both teams on the field. The Wallabies had the opportunities to score points and take shots at points, and at different stages they tried to keep pressure on the All Blacks, which at the time I thought were reasonably good decisions. Most times they were in the All Blacks' area they left with points, so I think they did a reasonable job.
"You look at the All Blacks who've lost one game in 36 games or one game since the 2011 season … they're a good quality team. So that's why I don't see a draw as disappointing. And it's a real confidence booster for the Wallabies to stay in contact with them and you know the real challenge is this week in Auckland with a ground that has a bit of a voodoo; but it's just a matter of playing these same blokes and taking the opportunities. If you leave any opportunities on the park, which they did on the weekend, you're not going to be beating a team like the All Blacks. So they have to go out there with the right mindset and take the All Blacks on."
Asked whether he believed in the Eden Park hoodoo, the Bledisloe Cup winner said it was just like any other ground but he believed the ability for the crowd to create a "blackout" around the stadium and playing in New Zealand rugby's "homeland" had a definite effect on the game and the players.
Eden Park has been a happy hunting ground for the All Blacks © Getty Images
"I suppose one of the great things for the All Blacks is their colour. It makes it easy for everyone to turn up [in their colours], whereas it's a real push to put on gold to support the Wallabies. I've played in games before where they've tried to have a blackout, and everyone's wearing black so when you see no gold supporters there and you think 'well we're in for a torrid time now'. So that's why getting a good positive start sort of negates the fairly passionate fan base that they've got there in Auckland.
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"I think the only difference with Auckland, as far as New Zealand's concerned, they play all their big games there, they play their grand final of the World Cup there; it's their spiritual home. It's their biggest stadium, they'll have a volatile crowd out against [the Wallabies], and you know when the Kiwis play over in NZ there's a little bit added pressure on them, so it gives the Wallabies a good opportunity for a big start and put more added pressure on [the All Blacks], instead of letting them dominate and dictate the game."
Finegan did not win at Eden Park with the Wallabies, but he believes they just need to think of the ground as "just another piece of grass with a home town crowd"; with the Wallabies' confidence growing, he believes they "definitely have a chance" at ending their 28-year Eden Park drought. "More because of that confidence, [but] I wouldn't be underestimating the difficulty of doing it. New Zealand have shown consistently over the past three or four years they are the team to beat, and rarely do they put on a weak side.
"It's going to be difficult, but it's still 15 men against 15 men, or 23 against 23, and the Wallabies are going to go into the game with a lot more confidence and belief than they have probably in the last 10 years that they actually can beat them over there."
Owen Finegan spoke to ESPN courtesy of HSBC, for whom he is a rugby ambassador. HSBC, the world's leading international bank, is proud to partner with the Wallabies. HSBC shares the ARU's ambitions to grow and constantly strive for success. Follow HSBC Rugby on Twitter at @HSBC_Rugby
Michael Hooper's Wallabies have captured the heart of Australia's rugby fans © Getty Images
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