Western Force coach Michael Foley has put his team on red alert for a fired-up Michael Hooper in Saturday night’s Super Rugby clash with the NSW Waratahs at nib Stadium.
Hooper was labelled “dreadful” and a “non-event” by former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer last week after making a quiet start to the season.
The Waratahs as a whole have also been put under the spotlight after slumping to a 2-4 record, leaving their finals hopes hanging by a thread.
Dwyer said Hooper had fallen behind David Pocock, Liam Gill, Sean McMahon and Matt Hodgson in the pecking order for openside flankers vying for Wallabies selection.
Hooper has the chance to make Dwyer eat some humble pie this week when he goes head-to-head with in-form Force skipper Hodgson.
Foley predicts the battle will be intense.
“Anyone who’s challenged like that responds,” Foley said of Hooper, who produced some standout displays at last year’s World Cup.
“I’m sure Hooper will be fired up. He’s received a lot of support. He’s a very good player.
“But Matt Hodgson’s been in very good form. He always lifts for these sorts of games.
“There’s been a couple of games where he’s been heroic.”
The Waratahs have lost their past three matches against the Force, but Foley said that record will count for little heading into Saturday’s re-match.
The Force have snared just one win from their opening seven games, and their worrying injury toll has expanded since losing to the Crusaders 20-19 a fortnight ago.
Fringe Wallabies hooker Nathan Charles will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to fix his dislocated right shoulder, while prop Pek Cowan will miss at least six weeks with a broken arm.
And winger Luke Morahan will be forced to sit out Saturday’s match against the Waratahs after being diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis in his leg.
Foley believes the Force’s heavy travel schedule has played a role in the team’s horror injury run, and he hopes SANZAAR will be more understanding when they release next season’s fixture.
“We’ve had 16 trauma injuries this year, and one soft tissue,” Foley said.
“When you consider training days missed and the cumulative impact of the travel … to get 16 trauma injuries in the first seven games of the season is insane.”
Foley was particularly upset about his side’s fixturing between rounds 2-4.
Instead of being able to fly to NZ straight after their round-two clash with the Reds, the Force had to fly back to Perth to take on the Brumbies, before then making the 5340km trek to Palmerston North in NZ.
“It would suggest we’re being asked to do things that other teams aren’t (in order) to accommodate them,” Foley said.
“The very simple message is to make sure the byes are in the right times of the season, so that the travel schedule – as difficult as it might be – is broken up by the right type of break.”