AUSSIE rugby fans haven’t had much to cheer about during the Super Rugby season but they’ll be hoping the national side lifts their spirits when it takes on Ireland at Suncorp Stadium tonight.
Michael Hooper leads a team with some new additions to its forward pack, including Caleb Timu, Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Pete Samu.
Kick-off is scheduled for 8pm AEST.
Aussies delight in Kiwi smash-and-grab
Just weeks ago, Michael Hooper was questioning how NSW rugby could have ever let Crusaders revelation Pete Samu slip through their fingers.
Now the relieved Wallabies captain is salivating at the thought of Samu coming off the bench to wreak havoc for Australia in their Test series opener against Ireland.
Hooper on Friday admitted to ruing the 26-year-old as the one who got away after they trained beside each other with the NSW Waratahs in 2013. Samu’s moved from Sydney to Waimea Old Boys in New Zealand’s South Island in 2014 turned his career around.
Rubbing salt into Hooper’s wounds, and those of NSW, Samu made a momentum-changing charge in the Crusaders’ record-breaking Super Rugby comeback win over the Waratahs last month.
But now he’s breathing easy after Rugby Australia and NZ Rugby finally came to terms over a release for the Melbourne-born player, who has signed on for the Brumbies in 2019.
“You think back and think, ‘How could we have lost him at the time?’” Hooper said on Friday. “I do remember him and you go, ‘Oh damn!’ when you see him starting and really come through at the Crusaders.
“Him coming back to Australian rugby is a huge benefit to us and pushing that competition which has been great in Super Rugby.”
Likewise, Hooper said Crusaders tighthead Mike Alaatatoa, brother of Wallabies prop Allan, was another he wished Australia could have kept but he’s chosen to stay in Christchurch.
Samu, nicknamed Pistol Pete by centre Samu Kerevi, is set to join Hooper and David Pocock in the back-row early in the second half at Suncorp Stadium and the captain is looking forward to his hunger and muscle against the Six Nations champions.
“Pete really wants to be here and to have someone with that sort of enthusiasm and be rewarded with a spot on the bench is fantastic,” he said.
— Jim Morton, AAP
Hooper desperate to embrace winning ways
Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper has underlined the importance of Australia reversing its recent mid-year fortunes with a season-opening Test victory over Ireland.
Australia’s past two years of international rugby have been blighted by poor starts in June, losing 3-0 to England in 2016 and falling to Scotland in a one-off clash last year.
They led into disappointing Rugby Championship campaigns and immediate Bledisloe Cup failures.
Hooper, relishing the chance to reunite with David Pocock in the back-row at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, says an opening triumph over the world No. 2-ranked Irish in the three-Test series is crucial.
“It’s great for momentum, it’s great for confidence to know that you can do it and it doesn’t put you up against a decider straight away,” Hooper said. “It would be lovely to win the first one, of course, and try things out.
“We want to be true to our mantra and how we want to play the game and how we want to be viewed by our fans and that’s playing a good, enjoyable, strong game of rugby.”
The Irish know what’s coming with coach Joe Schmidt lauding the creative enterprise on show in the 15-try shootout between NSW and Queensland last weekend.
With Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau all humming, Schmidt — aiming to end a 39-year drought Down Under — sees Australia as the best attacking team in the world behind the All Blacks.
But their defence will be questioned, especially Samu Kerevi who has struggled at No. 13 in the past and admitted he’d let media doubts creep into his head. The Wallabies have been forced into a late bench change with Brumbies prop Allan Alaatatoa ruled out with an ankle injury and replaced by NSW loosehead Tom Robertson.
Hooper admitted it hadn’t been all “smooth sailing” this week in preparation as the players have challenged the coaches in tweaking game plans for the Six Nations champions.
“It’s a real collaborative venture, almost, to try and put together the best play sheet for what we think is coming up tomorrow, rather than it being a dictatorship,” he said.
“Credit to the coaches in allowing the players to do it and it’s going to be a good test tomorrow night to see how we’ve taken to that challenge.”
Ireland hopes to continue their 12-Test unbeaten streak without regular playmaker Johnny Sexton from the start as the superstar five-eighth has been benched in favour of Joey Carbery.
— Jim Morton, AAP
Wallabies: 15. Israel Folau 14. Marika Koroibete 13. Samu Kerevi 12. Kurtley Beale 11. Dane Haylett-Petty 10. Bernard Foley 9. Will Genia 8. Caleb Timu 7. Michael Hooper 6. David Pocock 5. Adam Coleman 4. Izack Rodda 3. Sekope Kepu 2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa 1. Scott Sio Bench: 16. Tolu Latu 17. Tom Robertson 18. Taniela Tupou 19. Rob Simmons 20. Lukhan Tui 21. Pete Samu 22. Nick Phipps 23. Reece Hodge.
Ireland: 15. Rob Kearney 14. Keith Earls 13. Robbie Henshaw 12. Bundee Aki 11. Jacob Stockdale 10. Joey Carbery 9. Conor Murray 8. CJ Stander 7. Jordi Murphy 6. Peter O’Mahony 5. James Ryan 4. Iain Henderson 3. John Ryan 2. Rob Herring 1. Jack McGrath Bench: 16. Sean Cronin 17. Cian Healy 18. Tadhg Furlong 19. Quinn Roux 20. Jack Conan 21. Kieran Marmion 22. Johnny Sexton 23. Jordan Larmour