SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia captain Michael Hooper said the axing of the Western Force would not prove a distraction to the Wallabies when they take on the Springboks in Perth on Saturday.
The protracted saga over the cull of the Perth-based Force from Super Rugby has rumbled on for much of the year but came to a climax this week when the team had their appeal dismissed by a Sydney court.
Several Wallabies will now be forced to find new teams but Hooper said the quest for a first Rugby Championship win of the season after two losses to the All Blacks had been the priority for the whole squad.
“We’ve had a test match to prepare for,” he said in Perth on Friday.
”It hasn’t been swept under the rug, we’ve supported the guys it directly affected, it affected all of us but some of the guys were directly impacted.
“We offered our support, and the best way to offer support was by focusing on the common goal, which was this test match.”
Some Western Australian rugby fans have said they will boycott the match at the Force’s Perth Oval stadium to protest the Australian Rugby Union’s decision, while others will show their support by wearing the colours of the Super Rugby team.
“It’s not a great stadium to play at in Super Rugby because the supporters are so intense and so into the game,” Hooper added.
“So going into tomorrow, I‘m pumped to think they’ll be supporting gold whatever colour jersey they are wearing.”
Hooper had a special word for Western Force outside back Dane Haylett-Petty, who will miss Saturday’s test after being ruled out for the season by a torn bicep.
“This is one he really wanted to play, and the bloke, he’s been an absolute revelation over the past 16, 18 months,” he said.
“So, to miss out on this one that’s really close to his heart, I‘m feeling for Dane, but it’s these little things that’ll make him come back so strong.”
The Australia captain echoed coach Michael Cheika when he suggested a fine display by the Wallabies would be a boon to fans all over the country.
“We represent Australia and we have the control to help people’s moods,” Hooper said.
”Wake up on a Sunday morning just stoked to be Australian. And we’re fully aware of that.
“We want to be a team that’s consistently improving and we’ve done that this year. We haven’t reached our goals yet and tomorrow’s another opportunity to play a really good side in good form.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty