Newly elevated captain Michael Hooper is vowing to finish the job Dave Dennis started and lead the NSW Waratahs to an historic Super Rugby title.
Hooper admits he was shattered to see Dennis suffer a season-ending knee injury last week with the Waratahs closing in a first-ever championship and is promising to lead the side in the same stylish manner in his absence.
“That was a real tough one, seeing Denno go down in that game and then later on to see him afterwards,” Hooper said ahead of the Waratahs’ high-stakes showdown with the fourth-placed Highlanders on Sunday.
“So he’s in the back of our mind and we want to carry forward the job that he’s set up so nicely this season.”
Under Dennis’s leadership, the Waratahs have racked up seven tryscoring bonus-point wins this season, including one last week against the Brumbies, and Hooper says he’ll carry the same attacking mindset into the finals.
The classy flanker won’t be afraid to go for the jugular.
“It’s obviously an on-field thing that you have to weigh up,” Hooper said.
“Points on the scoreboard is really important, building pressure, making teams starting to think it’s going to take a lot of points to get back – maybe even a try – to get back.
“That’s what you want you want your opposition thinking, so taking shots at goal is really important, however scoring a try can put a team to bed.
“We got a bit of pay out of that on the weekend and we’ll be hoping if those opportunities come up, our tails are up and we can take those.”
Hooper also claimed the Wallabies captaincy through a knee injury, with hooker Stephen Moore breaking down in his first Test as skipper.
“It’s not a nice position to be in, to be honest, because both guys I get a long with really well and both earned the job,” he said.
“It is really tough. It’s not ideal but that’s the way footy works.
“For me going forward, Denno’s done such a great job and it’s just picking up the ball and running with it; pointing for goal.
“The team and the group is so motivated at the moment that my job is pretty much obsolete.
“Everyone knows what they’re doing.”
Victory over the Highlanders at Allianz Stadium would secure the Waratahs a home final, but coach Michael Cheika said his side was aiming for much more than that and challenged his troops to back up the talk.
“The purpose we’re searching for in the season is not to win the conference,” he said.
“So we have to be true to ourselves. We can’t talk about doing things.
“We’re making our best efforts to get there but we still haven’t arrived at our own goal and that’s what we’re well and truly focused on.”