Openside flanker Michael Hooper has received strong endorsement from the current Wallabies coach after having his form rubbished by a previous Australian Test mentor.
Hooper was the run-on No.7 for the Wallabies in last year’s World Cup, during which Australia’s other champion openside David Pocock started at No.8.
The 24-year-old flyer has won 51 caps and plenty of provincial and national awards, but there’s a perception the NSW Waratahs captain has been below his damaging best so far this season.
The 1991 Wallabies’ World Cup-winning coach Bob Dwyer this month described Hooper’s form as dreadful and questioned if the national vice-captain should even be in Cheika’s squad for the coming three-Test home series against England.
Michael Cheika, though, was having none of it when asked on Wednesday if Hooper was still his first-choice No.7.
“He played the last game there, didn’t he? So I suppose he’s in the box seat at the moment,” the Wallabies coach said.
“I suppose it’s a little bit disappointing for me to hear more of the language that’s being used as opposed to the idea because a guy like Hooper definitely doesn’t merit that type of attention.
“He’s doing his job for the Waratahs very, very well. He’s taken on a leadership role this year as well within an organisation that has changed a lot.
“I don’t need to go on the record about what I think about Michael Hooper. I think it will be seen through my selections.”
Cheika was enthusiastic about Israel Folau’s first couple of starts at outside centre, but wouldn’t disclose whether he would select him in that position or in his established role of fullback.
“He’s done well. It’s not an easy position to master in particular in defence,” Cheika said.
“There’s no doubt with the ball in his hand it will be just a natural thing with him to take on the defence.
“Defensively, I think he’s got his head around it pretty well and I’d say he’d be finding a different level of fitness required to probably to play in that position because you’re on the go the whole time.”
“That’s a really good development for him. It’s something that will help him in his football whether he plays 13 going forward or if he goes back to fullback.”
Utility back Kurtley Beale, who came off the bench for five of Australias’s seven World Cup matches, will be considered for inside centre for the England series, especially if incumbent No.12 Matt Giteau has a gruelling season in European club rugby.
“I’d say he’s right up there competing for it because I think he’s had a good season so far,” Cheika said.