Australia vice-captain Michael Hooper rates the first 20 minutes of their first Test defeat to England as some of the best attacking rugby he’s been involved in for years.
It was fast, exciting, expansive – and then it all came to a shuddering halt as England’s confrontational, close-quarters game took hold and strangled the life out of the Wallabies.
Hooper knows they can’t let it happen again in Saturday’s must-win second Test at Melbourne’s AAMI Park.
“The ability to put points on England early was fantastic,” said Hooper, who scored two tries in the 39-28 defeat at Suncorp Stadium.
“But then to fall off and not be able to keep that alive and then to have a fluctuating game where we couldn’t control it was disappointing.
“You look at a review and you say, ‘Jeez, we did some great stuff’.
“And then you think of the score and you wonder how did it end up like that?”
Coach Michael Cheika has rolled the dice, making four changes to his forward pack that he believes will help extend that dominant early stretch in Brisbane to a full 80 minutes – or as close to it as possible – in Melbourne.
Front-row inclusion Sekope Kepu comes in to solidify the Australian scrum and provide another strong ball-running option.
But the biggest gamble is the selection of Melbourne Rebels firebrand Sean McMahon to replace David Pocock in the back row – a clear sign Australia will attempt to move the ball around quickly instead of trying to beat the Red Rose at their own belligerent “Bodyline” game.
McMahon is 26kg lighter than his direct opponent, England’s Billy Vunipola, and has limited experience in the No.8 role.
Yet his teammates marvel at the dynamic 21-year-old’s work rate, and his ability to carry the ball and whip it out wide should help the Wallabies avoid being bogged down the way they were in Brisbane.
“We just expect him to be doing what he’s been doing all year – play extremely, carry very hard and defensively he’s unreal,” Hooper said.
“He can create something out of nothing.”
McMahon has played only seven Tests but two of those were at the World Cup, leaving Hooper more than confident he can handle the occasion and seamlessly slot into Australia’s double-openside set-up.
Hooper said the Wallabies were feeling confident because nothing England had thrown at them “blew us away”.
“For us, it’s being able to control our stuff better, going back to what we need to do to get more of that really good stuff from the first game,” he said.
“We’ve been put under the pump. England played a good game, got on top of us last week. We need to get it done.”