Wallabies halfback Nic White has revealed several teammates have spoken to Michael Hooper following their courageous 41-26 win over the Pumas, after their captain shocked world rugby with a late withdrawal from the squad for personal reasons.
Making the decision to pull out from their Argentina tour on the eve of their opening match, Hooper said he wasn’t in the “right mindset” to lead or represent the country.
Arriving in Australia shortly after the Wallabies’ win, Hooper congratulated several players over the phone after they managed to overcome a 19-10 halftime deficit and the loss of playmaker Quade Cooper to an Achilles injury.
“He’s spoken to a few of us, we’ve been in touch and I spoke to him after the game once he touched down,” White told media on Tuesday [AEST]. “He was obviously stoked with the result and we’ll stay in contact with him.
“Obviously he’s got a lot of support around him and he’s not on his own now. The staff have put a good plan in place for him, he’ll be well looked after back there, and we’ll make sure we stay in touch.”
White confirmed there was no timeline in place for Hooper’s return, with prop James Slipper taking over the captaincy for their Rugby Championship opener. Asked whether he’d put his hand up for the role in the future, White joked referees wouldn’t be happy with the decision.
“I’m pretty happy doing my role,” he said. “Look nothing would change, I’m sitting there behind Slips and I chew the boys’ ear off plenty so I’ve already got a role within the team. I’ve got plenty of voice and whatnot, so I don’t need a title there and I’m not sure the referees would be stoked with it.”
Hooper’s withdrawal and Cooper’s injury compounded the injury crisis the Wallabies are suffering with Angus Bell (toe), Scott Sio (shoulder), Samu Kerevi (knee), Dave Porecki (concussion), Tom Banks (arm), Izack Rodda (foot), Izaia Perese (patella) and Cadyern Neville (knee) all sidelined, while Andrew Kellaway (hamstring) is pushing for a return against the Springboks.
With the injuries stacking up against Australia and following a tumultuous week, Folau Fainga’a labelled the win over the Pumas as one of the best he’s been a part of with his teammates showing courage to overcome their setbacks.
“That’s probably a top five [win], it’s been a special one,” Fainga’a said. “With the week that we’ve had as a playing group and the courage the boys have had to go out there and put that performance out on the field in front of an almost sold-out crowd was pretty special.
“I think we’ve built very good depth in this squad up, there’s a lot of confidence as well. Just when one guy goes down, it’s just an opportunity for someone else to grab that jersey with both hands and pretty much take that opportunity.
“It just shows the boys have a lot of courage. It was a good game from the boys and we’re happy with the results.”
Despite the many setbacks and the impressive win, Rennie and his side have been quick to identify their failings from the weekend, with their slow start and poor discipline front of mind. Both issues have dogged the Wallabies throughout their four Tests in 2022, and the team know they’ll need to make changes to overcome a Pumas team looking to square the ledger in San Juan on Sunday (AEST).
“We’re probably just looking at the parts of the game and where we can improve,” White said. “Last week was a big week, a great result for us, but there’s so much in that game that we can be so much better at.
“It was a pretty shaky start, discipline was a big one for us, we’re still getting on top of the amount of turnovers we’re making and we’re heading in the right direction. But we’ve still got so many steps forward to make, we’ve got to make some shifts there.
“In that regard it’s easy to kind of narrow the focus down to what we need to do to continue to improve because this weekend again, we’re going to have to go to another level because we know they’ll be disappointed with how they played on the weekend. And Cheika will have them fired up and the emotion will be there, but we need to get back to the process of what it is, how we want to play, what our identity is and there’s plenty there for us to fix.
Asked if the Wallabies had pinpointed why they’re struggling through slow starts, White said they’re still trying to strike the balance between being aggressive, but not reckless, in the opening stages.
“Yeah, look I’m not sure. That’s the question we’re getting through at the moment, so we’ll get another chance this weekend to have a look at that,” White said.
“I guess it’s getting into the grind of things, getting some positive outcomes early in the game, and kind of flirting with that idea of having a crack, but also understanding the game can’t necessarily be won right there in the first five, 10, 15 minutes, but it can be lost. So we want to throw some shots, but we’ve got to make sure we’re not reckless and not giving up territory too easily.
“A big point for us this week will certainly be sorting out that discipline side ’cause there is a number there that are just silly penalties that we don’t need to be giving away. We need to force teams to exit rather than giving them piggy backs up the field.”