Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has welcomed the prospect of the great George Smith challenging him for Australia’s No.7 jumper at this year’s Rugby World Cup.
With the ARU opening the door for Smith and fellow France-based stars Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell to make a national recall this year, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is hoping to have an embarrassment of riches at his disposal.
Should he manage to entice 34-year-old Smith out of international retirement for a second time, Cheika would suddenly be faced with a major selection dilemma.
He conceded on Friday that there probably wouldn’t be room for three openside flankers in his 31-man World Cup squad, meaning Smith, Hooper and rejuvenated former Test captain David Pocock would be battling it out for two spots.
Hooper sportingly greeted Smith’s availability as “quality news” and said the ARU’s decision to allow overseas-based former Wallabies who have played 60-plus Tests and seven seasons in Australia as a good step forward.
“I haven’t been able to see him play or how he’s going but if he’s playing good rugby, and the boss wants to pick him, then so be it,” Hooper said.
“The main factor is, you still have to be playing really good rugby overseas.
“You have to get picked, you have to still be liked by the head coach.
“You can’t just go over and be having a holiday and get picked in the team.”
Hooper, who made way for Smith in Australia’s series-deciding loss to the touring British and Irish Lions in 2013, said the 111-Test great was one of a number of challengers to his starting position in the Wallabies.
Pocock remains undoubtedly his No.1 threat after responding to Smith’s newfound Wallabies availability with a first-half hat-trick and try assist in the Brumbies’ much-needed 31-18 bonus-point win over the Highlanders on Friday night.
“I didn’t have to do too much, but it’s pretty good to figure in four tries,” Pocock said after jumping on “the back of the chariot” for all three of his short-range driving efforts behind the Brumbies pack.
Pocock also made two clean breaks, won a couple of lineouts and earned a turnover to all but seal victory for the Brumbies before the interval.
“There’s plenty of sevens running around in Australia at the moment who are foremost competition for us,” Hooper said.
“George is obviously there or thereabouts and will always be thereabouts until he stops playing rugby.
“It’s focusing on your own game, like always, and what will be, will be.”
Far from concerned about the threat of disharmony should an overseas-based star waltz back into the Wallabies fold at the extent of a local, Cheika said the competition for spots was healthy.
“I don’t think that anyone in Australia is going to complain about having a better national team,” he said.
Certainly not Hooper.
“It’s up to the boss. I don’t know how he’s going to run with it,” he said.
“Look, it’s a lot of competition, especially in the openside position, so that’s exciting.”