Michael Hooper has downplayed becoming the most-capped Wallabies skipper in history, instead focusing on how to take down the world champion Springboks for the second time in six days.
The tireless 29-year-old will lead the side out for a record 60th time in his 113th Test when the Wallabies host the Springboks in Brisbane on Saturday, surpassing iconic Australia scrumhalf George Gregan.
Australia coach Dave Rennie lavished praise on the flanker and said he expected Hooper to surge past Gregan’s record 139 Tests for the Wallabies in the lead-up to the 2023 World Cup.
“He’s a fantastic example to the rest of the group,” said Rennie. “If you talk to players around the world, and rugby people all round the world, he’s hugely respected.”
Despite this, Hooper’s credentials as leader have regularly been questioned, given his underwhelming record.
According to Rugby Australia, he has overseen just 23 wins, six draws and 30 defeats from 59 Tests in charge so far.
Hooper said it was an honour to be spoken about alongside Gregan, and insisted captaincy was “100 percent a group effort”.
“I’ve been more than lucky being around some of the teams, some of the players I’ve been part of,” he said.
“It’s a weird one breaking someone else’s record, it’s not something you set out to do
“George was one of my favourite players, someone I looked up to in the way he competed and really went for it every time he played and strove to be better every week.”
One of Hooper’s wins as skipper came in the Rugby Championship last week on the Gold Coast, when the recalled fly-half Quade Cooper slotted his eighth successful kick, from eight attempts, to seal a 28-26 thriller over the Springboks.
Hooper is expecting a fierce response from South Africa, who have been working on their discipline to prevent Cooper enjoying so many penalty-kicking opportunities.
“They’ve got some real attacking threats in their backline, so when they do get to the right parts of the field, we know they can open teams up,” he said.
“They move the ball around quite well and we’ve got to not allow them to do that.”
Hooper is also wary of the set-piece forward threat that brought South Africa three tries last Sunday, saying he expected it to “go up another gear”.
“We are expecting a lot of heat in that area, the scrum, lineout, maul and then around the breakdown. We know what this team is capable of and we have been preparing accordingly.”
Australia have made three changes with experienced scrum-half Nic White starting for the first time this season.
Tighthead prop Taniela Tupou comes in for Allan Alaalatoa and veteran James Slipper replaces Angus Bell at loosehead prop.
South Africa have largely opted for continuity, with Marvin Orie in as lock for Lood de Jager, who is unavailable after concussion, and Trevor Nyakane taking over from Steven Kitshoff as loosehead prop their only changes.
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