He enjoys the rivalry, welcomes the challenge and relishes Friday’s looming head-to-head battle with him, but just don’t call Michael Hooper David Pocock.
That’s what one of Hooper’s teammates tried after the flanker responded to Pocock’s three-try haul from the Brumbies’ rolling maul on Friday night with his own five-pointer from a rolling maul for the NSW Waratahs 24 hours later.
“Someone from the peanut gallery,” Hooper said.
“One of the boys ran in and said ‘Nice try, Pocock’. I wasn’t happy with that.”
But Hooper was happy to break his try-scoring drought for the Tahs and then lay on another for Adam Ashley-Cooper in a nerve-wracking 18-16 win over the Melbourne Rebels at ANZ Stadium.
Hooper’s man-of-the-match display had Waratahs and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika marvelling at the openside flanker’s class and set the stage for an epic personal duel with Pocock in Canberra on Friday night.
As well as top spot in the Australian conference being on the line at GIO Stadium, Hooper’s match-up with Pocock takes on greater significance after Cheika last Friday admitted he was considering luring the great George Smith out of retirement for the World Cup.
A master motivator and tactician, Cheika also said he probably couldn’t accommodate three specialist No.7s in his 31-man squad, doubtless prompting Hooper and Pocock to rise to the challenge.
“He is one of the most consistent footballers I have ever encountered,” Cheika said of Hooper, Australia’s incumbent captain.
“His consistency is ridiculous really.”
Pocock, himself a one-time Wallabies skipper before knee injuries wiped him out for the bulk of 2013 and 2014, excelled in the Brumbies’ 31-18 victory over the Highlanders.
“I woke up and I saw he scored three tries. I didn’t know what capacity until I saw they were driving maul tries,” Hooper said.
“So probably the biggest worry for me right now is going up against that next week. Three tries there is huge.
“We did pretty well in the lineout (against Melbourne) so next week is going to be a huge focus for us and Poey’s at the back of that so we’ve got to shut him down.”
Hooper conceded that would be easier said than done and said the Waratahs would study the tape of the Brumbies’ deadly driving maul – and how the Highlanders were unable to defend it.
“It’s an intent thing,” he said, adding that taking on Pocock and the Brumbies in such high-stakes encounters were the sort of things he played for.
“I’m a pretty competitive bloke and I enjoy the challenge.”