Back row challenge takes players to new heights
AT the 2015 World Cup, David Pocock and Michael Hooper drove each other to new heights.
This year, however, a back-row combination to rival "the Pooper” has not only emerged, it has lifted both players to post the best figures of their Wallabies careers.
There may be no snappy nickname for Hooper and Sean McMahon but everything else about the no.7 and no.8 dynamic is firing.
Both players were outstanding in Dunedin against the All Blacks and the pair again stood up in Canberra against Argentina, leading from the front in a second-half victory surge.
The impressive part is Hooper and McMahon are dominating on both sides of the ball, as prolific defending as they are running.
So far this season Hooper is averaging 12 tackles and 10 runs per game, and McMahon is averaging 11 tackles and 10.5 per game. Both are punching out over 65 metres run per game.
They're not only team-high stats, but for both Hooper and McMahon, those season averages are career-high too.
It will come as little surprise to learn why - both back rowers say they feed off the other. Like 2015, it's a virtuous circle.
"I really enjoy watching Sean. When he leaves a bit of a wake of defenders behind or puts on one of his tackles, it gets me up. I want to get a bit of ball too,” Hooper said.
Ditto, says McMahon.
"You always just see him working his ass off and that lifts me, to get to that level,” the Wallabies no.8 said.
"It kinda becomes a little battle between us, to one-up each other. In a team environment that makes you a better player and the whole team feeds off that kind of energy.”
Hooper is often referred to as an Energiser Bunny but a stuffed toy doesn't capture it, says McMahon.
He prefers "metahuman”, which a quick Googling translates as a mutant superhero.
"He is always doing something, he is always moving, he is always on point,” McMahon said.
"He is so consistent in every game and that's something I aspire to as well.”
Made captain of the Wallabies in August, Hooper's output this year leaves zero doubt about the bona fides of his "follow me” leadership.
Hooper has made the most tackles in the Rugby Championship - ten more than the next bloke. (McMahon is fourth).
"But a good indication with Hoops is that over the last few weeks we've been off doing extra stuff after most sessions,” Wallabies defence coach Nathan Grey said.
"He is always looking for ways to improve his game and how he can be a better defender.
"That's what you want from a leader. Other guys see that and think "geez if Hoops is doing extra, I have to do that as well”.
"He is doing things really well at the moment. A few blokes should go and rub him like a Buddha.”