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Michael Hooper's form kicks in for Waratahs just as Israel Folau loses his edge

Tight Five

On a roll: Michael Hooper's influence on Saturday night increased as the game progressed.

On a roll: Michael Hooper's influence on Saturday night increased as the game progressed. Photo: Getty Images

1.      Michael Hooper is the form player in the country, bar none. The Waratahs openside was probably the difference between NSW winning and losing against the Hurricanes, his outstanding form coming as Israel Folau has been caught and probably overtaken by Blues machine Charles Piutau as the competition's most dangerous fullback. With the game in the balance, Hooper's involvement became more pronounced, offering himself time and time again as a runner and pulling off that brilliant try-saving tackle on TJ Perenara early in the second half. A few years back, when Hooper was at the Brumbies, the quick Perenara did him on the outside in Wellington for a try. You'd be hard pressed to do that twice against currently the best player in Australia.

2.      A season to break – or make - Richard Graham. The Reds had problems before this year, but they've never looked so disorganised as they did on Friday night. Former All Blacks prop Keew Meeuws, in his role as expert commentator for NZ television, said the Reds coaching staff were yelling instructions to get Mike Harris off the side of the scrum and defend at fullback when they were down to 14 men with James Slipper in the bin, but that message did not get through and the Blues promptly exploited the space in behind for their second try just before half-time. The Reds have been quick to rally round Richard Graham – with some justification, which coach doesn't need time? – but he's realistic to know two things have the power to change that: a wooden spoon and any signs at the turnstiles the Reds' fantastic support over recent years is slipping.

3.      A kingdom for a tight-head. The No.3 jumper is shaping a difficult one for Ewen McKenzie, because Ben Alexander had real difficulties coping with Wyatt Crockett on Saturday, as Laurie Weeks did in Melbourne in round five. The new engagement process – which looks to have bedded down a bit after a mountain of collapses earlier in the season – has put a target sign on every No.3 in the competition. You almost have to be supernaturally strong to cope with the attacks coming through the loose-head side, and there doesn't seem to be an obvious candidate for what has become a particularly brutal role.

15. Jason Woodward (Rebels). Click for more photos

Australian team of the week - round 12 2014

Paul Cully picks the best team from the Australian conference. Photo: Getty Images

4.      Pat McCabe will start against the Sharks. You can understand the Brumbies' decision to go with Christian Lealiifano in the No.12 jersey over the past few weeks, but sometimes a player's form is so strong that it makes difficult decisions easy. When McCabe came on for Jesse Mogg at No.15 in Christchurch, he changed the game. Yes, a bit of the sting had gone out of the home side, but someone has replaced McCabe's diesel engine with petrol in the off season. He's two yards quicker. Every time he gets the ball he looks like beating a man on the outside.

5.      Winners and losers. It was hard not to like Cruze Ah-Nau's work on starting debut for the Rebels, or Jake Schatz's doggedness, or Nick Phipp's willingness to get stuck into the breakdown when the ball wasn't clean, but Matt Carraro and Stephen Hoiles chalked a few points up for the greybeards on Saturday. The game is so physically relentless that it constantly turns to youth, but experience has its place. By contrast, young JJ Taulagi at the Reds, who arrived with a reputation, looks like he could benefit from a season at NRC level. Scott Higginbotham also struggled a little to impose himself against the massive Sharks, bumped off by Jean Deysel at one stage, giving encouragement to Ben McCalman's growing fan club.

9 comments so far

  • #1 Yep Cully... Hooper by a country mile. And he brings it every game. Like a dog with a bone.... can't shake it loose.

    #2 Something is definitely not right north of the wall !

    #3 A kingdom for a tight-head.... if the Wallabies can find one then.... ??

    inner west sydney
    Date and time
    May 05, 2014, 7:49AM
    • It's good to see McCabe has more pace this year - his traditional means of making forward progress by trying to go through opposition players has failed time and again for years. I hope he spent a bit of time in the off-season learning how to pass the ball, though the signs are there that he prefers to keep the ball in hand rather than offload. I wonder if KPI's and "yards gained" on the coaches' stat sheet aren't the most important factor in a player's decision to hold on to the ball?!?

      Hugh Briss
      Gold Coast
      Date and time
      May 05, 2014, 7:53AM
      • An ideal result for the Reds really. I can understand Slipper, who is an intelligent, low error player, resorting to a tip tackle, to get out of playing for the Reds and having his reputation and market value trashed by Richard Graham’s coaching. There are quite a few Reds at very high risk of completely missing out on the Wallabies and the 2015 World Cup, if Richard Graham is coaching the Reds next year.

        That the Queensland Rugby Board, one who is apparently Richard Grahams manager, are willing to sacrifice their players careers and opportunity to play at a World Cup, to back one of their good old boys, shows they are bereft of conscience. It’s not corruption and it’s not nepotism, it’s much much worse.

        James Horwill has paid a heavy price for his private school fear of bucking authority, by backing Robbie Deans’ negative kiwi game plan for the Wallabies for the 2011 World Cup, after the Wallabies had just wiped the All Blacks off the paddock at Suncorp that year in Horwills first game as captain, and for wimping out standing up to Robbie Deans continued appointment for the Lions tour. If he is going to wimp out again standing up to the QRU,
        by meekly going along with Richard Graham and his utterly useless assistants being reappointed next year, then he will be letting down the Reds and their players and their supporters and Queensland full stop. It’s time to grow some James. Authority will screw you if you don’t.

        And why do you have one of the world's best place kickers on the field in Mike Harris but rarely give him a chance to kick at goal ? Why, why, why ?

        Date and time
        May 05, 2014, 8:45AM
        • I'm not sure that winning 25-20, on the strength of Radike Samo scoring a try through a feeble attempted tackle by a clearly injured Adam Thomson, counts as "wiping the All Blacks off the paddock". It was certainly a result to be pleased by, but it should hardly have led anyone to believe that the ABs weren't favourites to resume their dominance if they met the Wallabies during the RWC. Which, of course, they did.

          The Claw
          Date and time
          May 05, 2014, 12:57PM
      • I thought that Matt Hodgson was all over Hooper when they last met .
        Hodgson is heads down and arse up , like Smith , Waugh , Croft and Pockcock . They were relentless , your man Hooper " Flash Mick ".
        Higgenbotham is in pretty good form , and the best Captain we have , McCallman is playing his best football and it's all in him . I'm for
        " The Date ".
        Israel looks OK , he can't get the pill , too many forwards in the way .
        But talking of form players , what about Woodward . The Kiwis will probably beat us to him.
        You are right about our options at three , but if the ICAC had a look they would find more culprits , particularly at one , four and five .
        The Brumbies were given a footy lesson , as will be The Wallabies.
        Pat McCabe should be at 15.
        The Reds . The word I had was that Ewan was gifted to the ARU because they were in decline , Billy Pulver was sold a pup by Eales , McClean and Robinson.

        Graham was employed to turn it around . Its the players , some are burnt out , others are not up to it. I think that Jim " The Ferret " is on to this.

        Up in Palmerland ?
        Date and time
        May 05, 2014, 8:54AM
        • Hooper is playing outstanding rugby, although there is a reason he is so quick off the scrum, he is hardly ever attached to it. When Perenara bolted for the tryline Hopper was heads up, barely touching the scrum with only his fingertips. It won't be long before a savvy opposition captain points this out to the ref and all of Hooper's advantages will evaporate.

          Date and time
          May 05, 2014, 1:41PM
      • It’s a relief for Australian rugby to see the Ben Alexander myth being put to bed. For years now kiwi and saffa props have gone easy on Ben Alexander in the Super XV comp, knowing he was an ARU contracted player and knowing he would get selected for the Wallabies if they let him look good in the lead up to tests. They then proceeded to make mincemeat of him in the tests to the Wallabies great detriment.

        Tony Woodcock, fighting for his own form and All Black spot, made a big mistake embarassingly showing Ben Alexander up a few weeks ago, as did Wyatt Crockett, also hungry for an All Black and World Cup spot, by demonstrating to Ewen McKenzie that Ben Alexander is just simply not up to propping a test scrum. We can stop that silly Wallaby soul destroying experiment right now please.

        The Brumbies are going to butcher their season by persisting with Toomua at 10 at Leiliafano at 12, when clearly they should be reversed. They butchered it last season by being dragged down by Jake White’s scary saffa bitterness and its hoped Stephen Larkham doesn’t betray his Wallaby loyalties by not giving Toomua a chance to blossom in to one of the best 12's in world rugby for the World Cup and Leiliafano being the perfect 10 12 backup. That would be un-Australian.

        Date and time
        May 05, 2014, 8:59AM
        • NZ television gets Kees Meeuws as an expert commentator? Makes me want to move across the ditch.

          The Claw
          Date and time
          May 05, 2014, 11:13AM
          • We had a world class tight-head in the liked of Dan Palmer, only the ARU could not retain his services and he is now playing in France. If the ARU relaxed its eligibility rules to the same as NZ and SA, we would still have a no 3 who can stand up to the best of them. Talk some sense into 'em Link!!

            Wollongong (Currently Melbourne)
            Date and time
            May 05, 2014, 2:00PM

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