Next 12 months will be making of Wallabies captain Michael Hooper

Michael Hooper Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

The passing of the Australian Test rugby captaincy baton isn't always smooth. Sometimes it has been tainted with political undertones. Other times it has been spilled due to distressing circumstances. There's also been a fair share of unexpected left-field moments where suddenly a new Wallabies skipper is thrust upon us.

Michael Hooper can be thankful his recent permanent elevation to the position was incident-free, coming a few days after Stephen Moore decided that as he was retiring from international rugby at the end of the year, he would immediately stand down as Wallabies captain.

With it came an announcement with bells, whistles and no surprises, especially as Hooper has already experienced the Test captaincy in 2014 after replacing Moore when struck down by a season-ending knee injury, and then several more internationals this year.

Other long-term Wallaby captaincy changes have been far more abrupt.

The 1947-48 Wallabies, who did not have their line crossed in the Home Unions internationals, remains one of Australian rugby's most treasured teams. A major factor in that team's success was the captaincy of Trevor 'Tubby' Allan, who less than two months after his 21st birthday became Australia's second youngest Test skipper.

Despite being surrounded by many elders, Allan banded together a squad that had at its core hardened World War 11 servicemen, including a POW. It was among the greatest Australian rugby captaincy achievements, especially as he was thrust into the position. The Wallabies were originally led by Bill McLean, a fearless forward who had been a Commando captain during the final years of the war. However, in an early tour game against Combined Services at Twickenham, McLean broke his tibia and fibula in a tackle.

As McLean was stretchered off the field, he told Allan: "It's over to you now Tubby." Allan, who helped carry his captain to the sideline, called the players in, and gave them the simple instruction: "Let's just get on with the job."

From there Tubby led Australia to wins over Scotland, Ireland and England, and two years later captained the first Wallabies team to win the Bledisloe Cup in New Zealand. Those who played under Allan to this day deeply admire what he did. As teammate Max Howell wrote: "The team never questioned the new captain's selection; rather they all simply rallied behind him."

Almost as abrupt was how James Horwill was suddenly the Wallabies' 2011 World Cup captain. The media had been beckoned to a Sydney Airport hangar for the World Cup squad announcement, and were staggered to see Horwill and not Rocky Elsom lead the squad out through the doors of a Qantas jumbo jet. After all, the weekend before Elsom had been the Test captain in South Africa- and there had been no warning of a change.

However, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans believed that as the captaincy had become too much of a burden for a player no longer an automatic Test selection, someone else was required to lead Australia to the World Cup.

On the Monday in Durban, Deans informed Horwill and Elsom of the captaincy change. The players did not know until 8am on the Thursday when they assembled for the World Cup squad photograph and team announcement. In the team room, Elsom told them: "There's going to be a change in direction. As of the photo call today, James will be taking over."

That wasn't the only surprise of the day. The already stunned players soon realised James O'Connor wasn't among them. He also wasn't among them later that day at Sydney Airport. A big night out saw him miss all the formalities. All early distress signals of a flawed World Cup campaign where a fragmented Wallaby team failed to make the final.

Australian rugby is again in troubled times, and it will require Hooper to show off the mastery of a Trevor Allan to revitalise a team that since the 2015 World Cup has lost momentum and belief. Hooper's first stint as Test captain had touches of Tubby about it. When appointed by then Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie in 2014, the 22-year-old was the youngest Australian Test captain since Ken Catchpole in 1961- and the fourth youngest overall.

Around Hooper were numerous senior players who could have been jealous they had been overlooked, especially as he was in only his third season of international football. But unlike some Wallaby leaders in recent decades, Hooper showed he was a player's player, and a real leader in backing his colleagues during difficult times. Hooper stood up for his teammates during the Di Patston-Kurtley Beale saga, which didn't endear him to some Australian Rugby Union officials.

It was the toughest of initiations, and during a dramatic period where McKenzie walked away from the job, Hooper learnt a lot. He later said he felt as if he had aged 20 years during that period. Three seasons on, Hooper is a better leader. As shown in several Waratahs games this season, he had clearly taken hints from Richie McCaw in how to work with referees. The players and whistle-blowers do listen to him.

He also knows when to be part of the playing brethren, but also when to be aloof. That's a clever balancing act, and only the good leaders accomplish it. And like other rugby skippers who have made a difference, he has other interests. Rugby is not the be all and end all of his life. He keeps it in perspective.

Most importantly, he hasn't been isolated. A good leadership group has been formed around him. Experience in Will Genia, vision in Bernard Foley, and in the background fire and brimstone in Adam Coleman.

But Hooper is nowhere near perfect. He is far from everyone's preferred Test skipper, and sections of the media are waiting for him to topple. His decision making has sometimes been flawed, including during the June loss to Scotland when Australia ignored easy points by opting against penalty shots, believing kicking to the corner and lineout drives was the better option. Scotland then thwarted them at the lineout. Many out there still need convincing that Hooper can think straight under pressure.

There are also understandably doubts whether one so accustomed to losing at Test level can lead a revival. Hooper's Test success rate is at a mere 53 percent; as a captain 43 percent; against New Zealand 14 percent. Hardly compelling figures.

So, the next 12 months are crucial for Hooper, and will determine whether he is either the man to lead Australia to the 2019 World Cup, or another tap on the shoulder is required. 'Over to you now Hoops.'