AAP Rugby

Now or never for Wallabies to fire: Hooper

By AAP Newswire

When the Wallabies went into the tunnel at halftime of their opening Rugby World Cup match trailing Fiji, an unidentifiable voice was picked up on the referee's microphone yelling "Wake up! Wake up!".

It was an Australian accent and his team did pick up their act in the second half, to account for the Fijians.

But a cynic might say the Wallabies reverted back to a sleepy state for the rest of the pool phase, something they'll need to snap out of when they confront England in a massive quarter-final on Saturday.

Michael Hooper will lead a team who are obvious underdogs and not just because of their 0-6 record against the English over the last four years.

While the men in white looked authoritative and tight-knit in dispatching some lightweight group foes in Japan, the Wallabies have stuttered, mainly in the first half of every game.

The loss to Wales was notable for a lack of early cohesion, a problem that has dogged them.

Things need to click at Oita Stadium or Hooper will be home next week, missing out on the semi-final that would have been the scene of his 100th cap.

For at least eight other players in the Wallabies squad, it will mark the premature end of their Test careers.

World class flanker Hooper said staying in the contest early is critical because he backs his team's fitness and a quality reserve bench to have them surging home stronger than any opponent.

"I have started to be of the belief that starting well is preparing well for the back end of the game when it opens up a bit," Hooper said on Friday.

"Starting well is sticking to your principles early, not getting flustered by things that are happening, not getting flustered by the scoreboard because you don't win the game at halftime."

The Wallabies pack is expected to more than pull its weight, leaving much of the focus on the halves pairing of Will Genia and Christian Lealiifano.

With a combined age of 63, they're the oldest Australian starting halves since George Gregan and Stephen Larkham last linked in 2007.

Neither has had a steady diet of rugby under Michael Cheika's rotation-heavy methods but if they gel, it could provide opportunities for the likes of teenage star on the rise Jordan Petaia to showcase what all the hype is about.

Hooper said mental strength when the pressure is at it's most intense will be vital.

They've gone through all scenarios and even if another slow start eventuates, they won't get anxious, as one reporter suggested.

"The word you used there 'worried' is not going to get us anywhere," he said.

"Being worried would put us into our shell, being worried would not allow us to play the game we want to play."

Hooper said it had been hard to ignore all the hype around a clash with their greatest tournament rivals.

While he likes to stay focused on game specifics, he had paused to appreciate what was at stake.

"It's not a normal week, it's a quarter-final so great, how good is that? To be here in this position with this opportunity tomorrow.

"Yeah, I'm nervous. But that's good, it means you care."