France admit 'fear' over Michael Hooper
June 2, 2014
New Zealand's Jeremy Thrush tackles Michael Hooper, New Zealand v Australia, Bledisloe Cup, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, October 19, 2013
Flanker Michael Hooper has been identified as the Wallabies' danger man © Getty Images

Michael Hooper may have missed the Wallabies captaincy but he remains the centre of attention for a France team that fear the flanker's influence. Les Bleus have taken no time to show the concern they harbour about Hooper's breakdown work ahead of Saturday night's series-opener at Suncorp Stadium.

Inspirational France back-rower and captain Thierry Dusautoir rated the in-form Waratah the Wallabies' big danger while coach Phillipe Saint-Andre likened the 22-year-old to 111-Test great George Smith. He coached Smith at Toulon in 2010-11, and felt Hooper was just as important to the current Australian side.

Hooper showed Smith-like qualities on the weekend when he bounced back into action immediately after a rib-rattling hit by giant Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna.

Saint-Andre highlighted the No.7's ability by showing his tour squad footage of his sharp, one-handed pilfer early on in the Wallabies last Test against Wales on November 30. The rapid-fire turnover immediately set in motion a scintillating backline try which featured a Quade Cooper flick pass to Joe Tomane who then put Christian Leali'ifano over in the 30-26 win at Millennium Stadium.

"(Hooper) reminds me of George Smith and I coached George at Toulon and I feel he's improved a lot," Saint-Andre said. "In the contact area he's often the first to get his hands on the ball. Any contested ball he creates a lot of turnovers and when you know the quality and the skills and the speed of the Australian backs he's a key player for that. We have done a lot of work on the ruck contest and we showed how much he contested in the Tests in November. We saw how many turnovers he gets, and one was brilliant against Wales, which saw a fantastic try by the backline."

Dusautoir is rated among the best flankers in the game and won his 2011 player of the year award on the back of an inspirational man-of-the-match display in Les Bleus 8-7 IRB World Cup final loss to the All Blacks. But he didn't mind admitting the danger that Hooper, more renowned for his powerful ball running, presents at the breakdown.

"We have to work hard on our rucks to be efficient because we really fear him," he said.

Many tipped Hooper to replace Ben Mowen and become the youngest Wallabies skipper in 67 years, but Ewen McKenzie instead appointed him deputy to Stephen Moore.


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