Hooper says Wallabies 'pumped' as he marks captaincy milestone

Australia face the world champions in the Rugby Championship at the Gold Coast on Sunday, desperate to improve after three straight defeats to the All Blacks.

  Australia's captain Michael Hooper passes the ball during captain's run at Royal Pines Resort, in Gold Coast on 11 September 2021, ahead of their Rugby Championship match against South Africa. Picture: AFP

BRISBANE - Michael Hooper on Saturday warned South Africa to prepare for "a real test" with the Wallabies "pumped" by the shock return of Quade Cooper, as the resilient captain prepares to mark a major milestone.

Australia face the world champions in the Rugby Championship at the Gold Coast on Sunday, desperate to improve after three straight defeats to the All Blacks.

But they have a big task ahead with the experienced Springboks coming off two wins against Argentina and a 2-1 series victory against the British and Irish Lions.

South Africa also head into the game having won their last two Tests against Australia, although they have not met since 2019.

Hooper admitted his young team must improve their discipline and ball-handling, but insisted they were quickly learning and were capable of toppling their opponents.

"You take a loss like that [against New Zealand], again, and you've got to be taking stuff from it," said the 29-year-old, who will equal George Gregan's record for most Tests as captain when he leads the side out for the 59th time.

"You can't just be going on the same trend, we've got to start to show improvements.

"And I think we're really going to test the South Africans and we've got to really trust our game plan and trust the guys next to us to be able to deliver on that and for longer periods of time."

The team has been boosted by a stunning recall of flyhalf Cooper, who played the last of his 70 Tests against Italy in 2017.

His international career appeared over but he was brought into camp last month to help out and has forced his way back into the team.

"It's very exciting, isn't it? He's got such a unique story and he's such a quality player when he's on," said Hooper.

"He's got a real hunger to keep learning and keep growing as a player so he is the right selection for the game. I think everyone's pretty pumped to see him out there tomorrow."

'TOUGH DAY'

South Africa assistant coach Mzwandile Stick said Cooper's return, along with Samu Kerevi, were dangers that his side must not underestimate.

"If you give them time and pace they will punish you," he said. "So we can't afford not to pitch up tomorrow, it's going to be a tough day for us.

"With ball in hand, we know the challenge that's coming. They are going to try and keep the ball as much as possible and we have worked very hard on our conditioning to face the challenge. Not only Cooper, they have world-class players."

Sunday's clash will be a big day for Hooper, matching Gregan's captaincy record and overtaking George Smith as the fifth most capped Wallaby with his 112th appearance.

The tireless skipper, regarded as one of the world's best flankers, insisted he was strictly a team man and had never been interested in breaking individual records.

"In terms of the milestone, it's not the reason you play a team sport, you're in it for different reasons," he said.

"But, yeah, it's probably something that after my career I'll look at.

"It's never been a milestone of mine to rack up the amount of caps or captaincy appearances. I've just tried to keep doing my best and keep growing as a player and do those sorts of things."

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