SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s new captain Michael Hooper believes the high turnover of players in the Wallabies squad over the last two years means the current crop are untainted by a decade and a half of Bledisloe Cup failure.
The inclusion of former rugby league winger Curtis Rona for the Rugby Championship curtain-raiser against New Zealand means coach Michael Cheika has blooded 20 new players since Australia lost the 2015 World Cup final to the All Blacks.
Saturday’s match doubles as the opener in the three-match Bledisloe Cup series and Hooper thinks the overhaul of the squad means the team can dare to dream of wresting back the trophy from New Zealand hands for the first time since 2002.
“This group hasn’t been through 10 or 12 or however many years. This group has come together this year to do something,” he told reporters at Olympic stadium on Friday.
“What’s wrong with a goal? What’s wrong with a dream that everyone here wants to achieve? There’s nothing wrong with it.
“That’s what we should be aspiring to and achieving ... All I know is that this group at the moment is very enthusiastic and very confident in what we’ve been doing.”
The bookmakers make the All Blacks overwhelming favourites to prevail in Saturday’s match but nothing was deflecting Hooper from his upbeat message.
Not a reminder that Australia lost the same fixture 42-8 last year, nor that none of Australia’s five Super Rugby teams managed a win over New Zealand opposition in 26 attempts this year, nor that the stadium will be little more than half full.
“We’re completely focused on us and how we can get this new group, this new squad, in best possible shape for what is a very exciting year ahead,” he added.
“This group is hungry and it is extremely excited by the challenge.
“We’d love it to be an 80,000 packed stadium but we are really focused on our outcomes and what we can control.”
Adhering strictly to the team ethos, the openside flanker dismissed as “silly” the idea that Australia were embarking upon the “Michael Hooper era”.
The gale-force wind that gusted around the stadium on Friday and is forecast to blow just as strongly on Saturday was something the team would “deal with”, he said, and there would be no dropping off of the team’s level in the last 20 minutes.
The Wallabies have made a habit of finishing matches poorly over the last year but Hooper said they were fitter than ever and expected a big impact from the replacements.
“Our bench hasn’t seen the enthusiasm we would really like in the last couple of games,” he said.
“We’ve picked a really strong bench to come on, guys who will really up the tempo, up the enthusiasm, some really good skill sets and experience on the bench to close out the game.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford