James Lawton: Michael Hooper's fresh-faced brilliance mocks latest England reinvention

In English rugby yesterday’s comer is quickly transformed into today’s regret

So many questions came to the surface at Twickenham you could weep for the pressure on England's coach Stuart Lancaster as he attempts to supply a few answers before the South Africans arrive at the end of the week.

Yet the biggest inquiry of all really needs to go not to the man who less than a year ago was given the job of repairing a ruined professional culture but to the hierarchy of the Rugby Union. It asks simply this: if Australia's latest wunderkind Michael Hooper's English father, a forward of relatively modest accomplishment with Blackheath, had stayed at home, would Saturday's man of the match have looked quite so capable of stepping so easily into the fabled boots of such as George Smith and David Pocock?

At 21 years and one month, would he, like so many of his predecessors, have suggested quite so strongly that he had been playing rugby for ever?

Would he have shown so much familiarity with all the nuances of the game as he played such a vital role in lifting the Wallabies up from the floor after their thrashing by France?

The answers have to converge into a big and depressing "no".

While Lancaster and his captain Chris Robshaw talk desperately of a need for a much more clinical approach against the South Africans and the All Blacks, as the prospect of a decent seeding for the World Cup here in three years hangs so precariously, Hooper was being widely acknowledged as the latest arrival in the firmament of world rugby stars.

Against England he was playing his 11th Test match. That could just have easily read 111. There was never a moment when he didn't seem to know what to do. He played with the most conspicuous freedom in a team which was supposed to be at a point of breakdown, with its embattled coach Robbie Deans accused of "destroying" the Wallaby tradition by no less than the legendary David Campese.

If Hooper is awash with English blood, he is also suffused with a self-belief and a confidence that was so poignantly missing in the efforts of the representatives of his father's homeland. Hooper looked as if he might well have learned the game in his Sydney cradle; England still appeared to be playing by numbers.

It is, surely, the issue which now dominates the brief tenure of Lancaster as he fights to prove that, having returned England to a state of basic professional discipline that was so shockingly absent during last year's World Cup in New Zealand, he can push forward with a team seriously competitive against the Southern Hemisphere superpowers.

Statistically, he is already looking down the gun barrel. The Australians, apparently demoralised by their disintegration in Paris, seemed to represent Lancaster's best chance of a breakthrough at the highest level. Yet on Saturday night he not only went home with defeat, and a score of questions about England's lack of composure, passing fluency and workaday game nous, but a record of growing futility against the Southern theatre of war. By the end of the month it is likely to have stretched to five defeats and a draw.

Even more disturbing is the message conveyed by young Hooper. Not only does the Southern Hemisphere enjoy a much greater supply of diamonds, they are so much more readily polished. By comparison, the English pursuit of significant players remains a kind of agony. Manu Tuilagi, when he was not jumping off the ferryboat in Auckland, was supposed to represent something of a force of nature. Now he resembles more another young lion of England of questionable ferocity.

Two years ago Ben Youngs was a revelation of poise and an exciting example of all that might be positive in England's game. Now, his efforts to inject some boldness into England as a second-half substitute for the prosaic Danny Care, are widely dismissed as so much wishful thinking. In English rugby yesterday's comer is so quickly transformed into today's regret.

For Lancaster the fight is to break this relentless sense of dwindling horizons. Sooner or later – and the critical climate when the great Nathan Sharpe held up the cut-glass trophy at Twickenham, was that it will be sooner – the most pressing question will not be about England's systemic failure to produce significantly rounded international players but the identity of a rugby man who might have some chance of changing the pattern.

Many felt that notwithstanding his courageous tackling of the moral crisis that England encountered a year ago, Lancaster was some way from the likeliest candidate. In this context, the favourite was Nick Mallett of the Southern Hemisphere and, maybe, a deeper feel for the imperatives of cutting-edge international rugby. One fact is certain. No one could have re-opened the debate more forcefully than the kid with the English genes and the Australian instinct.

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Sport
Fabian Delph celebrates his goal
footballChristian Benteke and Fabian Delph turn semi-final after Liverpool goal
Life and Style
Model wears: top £29.50, leggings £25, jacket £29.50, bag £25, all marksandspencer.com
fashion
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary
music
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace