England vs Australia: We have come through tough times, says flanker Michael Hooper


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On Saturday at Twickenham, England meet their most evenly matched opponents of the autumn series. It is not unfair to either team to say they are part of the second tier in world rugby, below South Africa and New Zealand, but both are well capable of beating the other.

Off the pitch Australia are a team in flux, as England were three years ago. A new coach in Michael Cheika, and a new captain in the 23-year-old flanker Michael Hooper.

“We’ve had some really tough times, but you have to roll with that stuff,” Hooper said, after the team’s training session at Latymer School in west London. “But we’ve managed to get a good group atmosphere and move forward. ‘Cheik’ has done a good job in getting real direction of where we want to go and where we want to be.

“That starts on the field. It’s one thing having a laugh and being mates on the bus, but then if you can’t tell each other the tough stuff then you’re not going to go  anywhere as a team. If you get your relationship right on the field you can say anything to each other. The rest of the stuff is easy.”

Previous coach Ewen McKenzie left his job just over a month ago amid suggestions he was in a relationship with Di Patston, a female member of staff working with the team, a saga further complicated by one of the team’s senior players, Kurtley Beale, sending lewd images to her. The timing of it all has not been ideal, but there is hope that, with a year to go before the World Cup, the damage can be repaired in time.

“Nothing is ideal in the world. What you have got to do is just adapt with the things that come,” Hooper said. “We were put in this situation, we came over here, we have put some really nice things in place, building a team structure that you don’t want to leave. And when we go through our Super 15 system next year, to be able to go through, come back in and know exactly what the Wallabies is about, that’s been a big part of thinking for the staff and the leadership group.”

The Wallabies will play in black armbands to mark the tragic death of Phil Hughes, the cricketer who died in hospital on Wednesday night, having been struck on the back of the head by a delivery earlier in the week.

“This news is a reminder of how lucky you are to play for your country,” Hooper said. “This is a great thing we do, to represent Australia. To wear a black armband, and to look down at it, we’ll be thinking of him and his family, knowing the job we have to do.

“The variety of people that have come through with messages – musicians, athletes, members of the public. Australia loves its sport. To see these messages coming through shows, positively, what our nation is about.”