He jokes he has the body of a 40-year-old, but Waratahs ironman Michael Hooper feels he can cope with another long and brutal campaign after getting virtually no rest through the Super Rugby competition.
The Waratahs were handed an especially gruelling schedule, playing for ten straight weeks before earning a rest for finishing second.
Openside flanker and incumbent Wallabies captain Hooper has played all but 12 minutes of the Waratahs’ 16 games so far.
It’s a typically prodigious output for the back-rower, who has played over 100 more minutes than any other NSW forward heading into Saturday’s home semi-final against the Highlanders in Sydney.
Only fullback Israel Folau and five-eighth Bernard Foley have logged more minutes in Waratah blue this year, both tallying the maximum 1280 in playing 16 full games.
“I think there’s a couple of guys who have been playing a lot of minutes this year and with that there’s just finding new ways of managing the body personally and the staff managing players individually,” Hooper said.
Asked if he had done anything different in his own preparations Hooper said there had been little things he had to get right off the field.
“I’m feeling like I’m about 40 these days, playing a lot of games,” 23-year-old Hooper said with a chuckle.
“I’m really looking forward to this weekend and that week (off) has done a lot for us, my body included.
“I think for the guys the mental refresh and for the bodies to recharge is really good.”
Hooper and his forward cohorts are expecting a fierce challenge from a Highlanders pack short of big name stars but big on mobility.
They have won the most turnovers this season (151), while the Tahs have won the fewest (88).
“They can play from anywhere – a really mobile pack,” Hooper said.
“All (of them) all want to play running rugby, all want to pass the ball and play like backs.
“We know they are a threat from anywhere on the field with any player, so we will be looking at that as a big focus point.”
Hooper was impressed with the big win his old side the Brumbies had in South Africa last weekend.
He couldn’t rule out meeting them in an all-Australian final, though the Brumbies will start underdogs away to runaway table toppers the Hurricanes in Wellington.
“You have a joke about it, it would be an amazing final,” Hooper said.
“It’s great to see other Australian teams doing really well and doing well overseas.”