Rugby - Wallabies flanker Hooper relishing rival Smith's influence

Facing Australia great George Smith in Super Rugby was a "nightmare" for Michael Hooper but training alongside him ahead of Saturday's crunch second test against the British and Irish Lions is more like a dream, the Wallabies flanker said.


The 110-cap veteran Smith, who helped Australia to victory over the Lions in the 2001 series, has joined the Wallabies camp in Melbourne this week, declaring himself fit and ready to go after recovering from a knee injury.

Hooper, at 21 and with only 14 caps since his test debut against Scotland last year, is at the opposite end of the spectrum but has made the number seven shirt his own in the absence of injured openside David Pocock.

Hooper is likely to retain his starting role for the second Lions clash at Docklands Stadium, a must-win for Australia after their first test defeat in Brisbane, and he thinks Smith's influence in the dressing room gives the squad a boost.

"It helps the squad massively, his experience is crucial in these sort of games and he's been here before," Hooper told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday.

"So it would be silly not to draw upon his wealth of knowledge, not only for me as a seven, but for a team, as far as experience goes.

"It does put the pressure on, you want to keep your jersey ... but most of all it's good to have him around."

Hooper first came in direct contact with Smith in a Super Rugby match in March, shortly after the 32-year-old had returned from playing club rugby in Japan to take up a short-term deal with his old provincial side ACT Brumbies.

Smith came off the bench early in the game against Hooper's New South Wales Waratahs after his team mate David Pocock limped off with a knee injury and helped the Brumbies thrash the Sydney side 35-6.

"That was an interesting game," Hooper noted dryly.

"They had Po-ey (Pocock) starting and then Smith came off the bench, so that's pretty much a nightmare as a seven.

"He came in and hit the ground running and I'm sure he will do the same (against the Lions). He's got a wealth of knowledge and 110-odd caps, it's a testament to him."


Pocock's serious knee injury was to rule him out of the Lions series, setting up a three-way battle between Hooper, young Queensland Reds flanker Liam Gill and Smith for a place in the Wallabies squad.

An untimely knee injury to Smith just before the squad's announcement spared Australia coach Deans a difficult decision, and the New Zealander installed Hooper to start in the first test at Lang Park and fellow 21-year-old Gill as reserve.

Injuries led to another unusual twist in Brisbane, with Hooper shunted to centre after backline stalwart Adam Ashley-Cooper came off early in the second half.

"I was shaking a bit at one point and there were a few things that I was unaware of but I really enjoyed it," Hooper said of the switch, his first since playing "about two games" at centre with Sydney club Manly Marlins.

Hooper has quickly become known for his fierce attack at the breakdown and his outstanding ball-carrying skills, but also showed his talents for the subtle psychological jab on Tuesday, when commenting on the Lions' loss of Irish lock and former captain Paul O'Connell for the series.

"We know O'Connell was a big player for them and as you were alluding to, very similar to (James) Horwill," he said, referring to the Wallabies lock and skipper.

"I'm sure they'll have a person just as qualified skill-wise to step up but it is a loss for them, I guess, in what he brings to the squad emotionally."

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