Oita — Australia captain Michael Hooper admitted to nerves yesterday ahead of this weekend’s blockbuster Rugby World Cup quarter-final against England but promised the Wallabies would come out firing — despite poor omens.
A six-game winning streak against their fierce rivals augurs well for England coming into Saturday’s showdown in Oita – particularly as the Australians have been slow starters in Japan.
However, Hooper believes Australia are capable of ripping up the form book.
“We haven’t been looking at what’s been and gone,” said the star flanker, set to win his 99th cap.
“The opportunities that this game presents against these guys —that’s what we’ve been focusing on, what we can get out of our game and to keep delivering that across the 80 minutes.
“We’ve been looking forward all week,” he added. “Not at previous fixtures against these blokes.”
Asked if he still got butterflies, Hooper smiled: “Yeah I’m nervous — but that’s good, it means you care. You feel alive, you feel ready to go.”
Hooper insisted the Australians would not panic if England hit the front early, after they gave Fiji a head-start and spotted Wales a 15-point half-time advantage that the Wallabies failed to overturn.
“But being worried is not going to get us anywhere,” he shrugged. “Being worried would put us into our shell, being worried would not allow us to play the game we want to play. It’s not about being worried — it’s about being assertive.”
Hooper, who forms one half of Australia’s famed, ball-scavenging “Pooper” combo alongside David Pocock, plans to strike a blow for the ‘golden oldies’ in the battle of the breakdown against England’s Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.
“I look old,” joked Hooper, asked about England’s hungry young pups.
“I don’t know if I feel old. It’s going to be a good battle. Obviously we’ve done our work on them — I think they’re great players,” added the 27-year-old.
“As far as experience goes, yeah it’s great to have it, but being youthful is also a benefit. I’ve been in their shoes before — wide-eyed, you’re ready to attack things.”
Australia coach Michael Cheika took a gamble by picking teen sensation Jordan Petaia at outside centre but Hooper tipped the 19-year-old to have a big impact, despite making just two starts for his country – both on the wing.
“For Jordan, what an opportunity,” he said. “He’s been very impressive in the games so far with the fairly limited amount of ball he has got. If that’s anything to go by, playing at 13 he’s going to get more of that – he could be pretty impressive there tomorrow.”
England, who became the first World Cup hosts to fail to reach the knockout stage in 2015, have had two weeks to prepare after their last pool game against France was washed out by a violent typhoon that left more than 70 people dead.
But when asked if he thought England could be a little undercooked, Hooper gave the hopeful journalist a withering look.
“You can assume anything,” he said. “You can make up any story you want, but tomorrow is a complete unknown — we’re feeling good, we’re ready for tomorrow, ready for 4:15pm (09:15 SA time).” — AFP.