SYDNEY (Reuters) - The New South Wales Waratahs will not be able to unleash their trademark running game if they allow the Canterbury Crusaders to dominate them at breakdown in Saturday’s Super Rugby final, skipper Michael Hooper said on Friday.
Wallabies openside Hooper, still only 22, has been in brilliant form this season as the Waratahs finished top of the Super Rugby standings and beat the ACT Brumbies in a bruising semi-final last weekend.
On Saturday, he will come up against a Crusaders back row featuring two World Players of the Year in Richie McCaw and Kieran Read as well as Matt Todd, who is playing so well at openside flanker that McCaw will start on the blindside.
“Their whole back row is capable of messing us up at the breakdown, we’ve got to be on our toes there,” Hooper told reporters.
”We play an attacking game and it’s an area we need to be sharp at in order to get points on the board tomorrow night, otherwise it could be a hard night for us.
“Richie’s obviously class there, Matt Todd’s great. It’s going to be a tough night if we let them be really good there at the breakdown.”
Hooper risked firing up Read on Friday by arriving late for the photo opportunity with the two captains and the trophy at the Olympic Stadium, the Crusaders number eight leaving after a wait of 20 minutes.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is also wary of the challenge McCaw in particular will present, but was unwilling to join those who question the legality of the All Blacks captain’s work at the breakdown.
“He’s a tyrant, a hard worker and a solid player who never gives in,” Cheika told reporters.
”He’s always there at the coalface of the battle. He’s the type of player I like.
“Tomorrow, we’re not going to like him obviously. We’re going to go out there and try to hurt him. But I think he’s a class player and he knows exactly how to go as far as he needs to go and he’s proven that over a number of years.”
In Hooper, though, Cheika knows the Waratahs have a pretty special player as well.
“His work-rate is pretty ridiculous really,” Cheika said after last week’s win over the Brumbies.
”There was one my moment I captured when we were in a bit of strife and I saw the blond mop - it’s difficult to miss when the headband comes off - just wanting to get in there.
“He just loves doing it, getting in there and getting dirty and working hard, and that’s pretty contagious.”
The Waratahs have lost 16 of their 20 Super Rugby matches against the seven-times champion Crusaders, including the last 11 and both of the previous finals the two teams have contested in 2005 and 2008.
Ticket sales indicate, though, that they will have the backing of a Super Rugby record crowd - the existing mark is the 55,000 who watched the Bulls win the 2009 final in Pretoria - for their first hosting of a final.
Hooper could have been channelling his coach when he said that if the Waratahs were to win a first Super Rugby title, it would have to be earned through hard work.
“They’re not just going to give you a way to scores tries, ways to put points on the board,” he said.
“You’re going to have to be able to make opportunities, force them to make errors...”
Editing by John O'Brien