New Zealand were seen using some under-handed tactics en route to a 33-25 win in Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup opener, but Australia captain Michael Hooper says his side must rise to the challenge
Australia captain Michael Hooper has emerged on the winning side of a Bledisloe Cup clash only four times in his 27 attempts to date, the most recent of which was in Brisbane back in November.
But the Wallabies have found Eden Park to be especially inhospitable having last won there in 1986, and the hosts left a few marks on the visitors in their Bledisloe series opener.
Several off-the-ball incidents perpetrated by the Kiwis caught the eye in particular, such as Aaron Smith’s craftily angled run to block Australia hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa at a breakdown.
Paenga-Amosa threw a quick ball to Tate McDermott at the front of a line-out to catch New Zealand unawares, but Smith sneakily caused him to slip in front of the ruck and slow the phase.
Rather than kick up a fuss over any potential controversy, Hooper humbly accepted his side are bound to be subjected to such dark arts: “That’s Test footy.
“There’s a lot of that stuff that one happened to be picked up, but a lot of that stuff gets missed as well and over the attrition of the game that stuff adds up and wears you down, so both teams I’m sure will be putting out there.”
Smith—who became just the 10th All Black to earn 100 caps on Saturday—wasn’t the only New Zealand star guilty of an off-ball offence that went unpunished.
Second-rower Brodie Retallick made his presence felt (and then some) in what was his first Bledisloe Cup outing since 2018, having not long ago completed a two-season spell in Japan.
And the Chiefs general reintroduced himself to longtime rival Hooper with a thundering knock at a ruck last weekend that stirred plenty of debate.
Hooper, 29, put his hands in the air after falling on the enemy’s side of the breakdown following a tackle, but that wasn’t sufficient to convince his opponent he wasn’t fair game.
Spectators could almost feel the impact themselves as the 123-kilogram Kiwi careered into his Wallaby target, who replied at the time by telling Retallick: “You got me good.”
“I’m like, ‘I didn’t miss playing you’,” Hooper elaborated at Friday’s press conference following the captain’s run.
Fit-again scrum-half Nic White is another among the Wallabies squad who took a forgiving approach to the matter, telling reporters on Thursday that such hits are “what rugby’s about.”
Nevertheless, coach Dave Rennie may hope his side can return the favour with a few fair knocks of their own in Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup rematch if they’re to level the series.
Australia haven’t held the title since 2002 and have raised an entire generation never knowing what it feels like to see their team lift the trans-Tasman honour.
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Rennie stoked the flames of competition himself this week after leaping to the defence of winger Andrew Kellaway, who was criticised for pondering whether New Zealand’s “aura has worn off a little bit.”
His coach insisted those remarks were not intended as the disrespect many had interpreted, doubling down by going as far as to say the Wallabies “don’t fear” this week’s hosts.
Hooper’s defiant response to some contentious collisions in their first Eden Park encounter is testament to that, setting the scene for another unmissable showdown on Saturday.