Australia captain eyes mission almost impossible
The Wallabies will suffer setbacks against New Zealand in Saturday's Rugby Championship clash and how they react to those reverses will determine whether they can upset the All Blacks, captain Michael Hooper said on Friday.
Hooper and his teammates face what has proved mission impossible for any international rugby team over the last 14 months when they try to bring a halt to the world champions' winning streak at 17 matches at the Olympic Stadium.
Despite New Zealand coach Steve Hansen's assertion to the contrary, the Wallabies have not been talking up their chances of preventing the All Blacks from claiming a record 18th win and Hooper's measured comments reflected that sense of realism.
"This game tomorrow night is going to be about adapting to the situations that occur," he told reporters.
"The Kiwis are going to throw some great stuff at us, we've got to be able to absorb that, then put what we're good at out on the field, and counter it.
"We know we're going to turn over the ball, we know these things are going to happen, but being able to get back at them, get back on the horse so to speak, is going to be paramount."
New Zealand are unbeaten in their last seven matches against Australia, have not lost in Sydney since 2008 and have held the Bledisloe Cup the two countries compete for annually since 2003.
When Australia point to fullback Israel Folau's 13 tries in his first 18 tests, New Zealand can counter with winger Julian Savea's 23 in 22 matches.
Hooper has been in brilliant form this year as he led New South Wales Waratahs to the Super Rugby title but his opposite number on Saturday will be Richie McCaw, three-times World Player of the Year and long the benchmark for openside flankers.
"Superb team, I've never beaten them," said Hooper.
"I drew once and that was a little taste but you want to be able to know that you can take on these guys and try and match up with them."
If the prospect of battling such monumental odds for the first time as captain was bothering Hooper, the 22-year-old was certainly not showing it.
"It feels pretty cool to be honest, I'm excited," he added.
"This is a massive game for us, the biggest game for us as a Wallabies group each year. I don't feel any pressure because I've seen what the players around me can do. That makes me really excited."
The Waratahs were considered to have had a slight edge over a Canterbury Crusaders pack including McCaw in the Super Rugby final at the same arena two weeks ago, but Hooper scoffed at suggestions the All Blacks' skipper might be on the wane.
"With the 127 caps he's got now, there's no chance he's a spent force," said Hooper, who had just turned 10 when McCaw made his test debut.
"The amount he brings to the All Blacks jersey and the guys around him is monumental. Every time you get to play against these guys, you're pretty pumped to take him on."
Hooper expects big clashes all over the park from the off on Saturday and called on the notoriously quiet Sydney crowd to get behind the Wallabies - as they got behind the Waratahs in the Super Rugby final.
"It was the first time I'd experienced it in New South Wales," he said.
"If something similar could happen tomorrow night it would definitely help the team and spark a lot of confidence for us."