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John Eales Medal-winner Michael Hooper toe-to-toe with David Pocock

Michael Hooper

Michael Hooper at the 2013 John Eales Medal presentation in Sydney.

Picture: Richard Dobson  Source: TheAustralian

MICHAEL Hooper has set up a titanic struggle with David Pocock for the Wallabies’ No 7 jersey next year after winning the prestigious John Eales Medal.

Hooper, 22, was the fourth openside flanker to win the award following George Smith (2002 and 2008), Phil Waugh (2003) and Pocock, who won it in 2010.

Pocock was indisputably Australia’s premier openside before two serious knee injuries sidelined him for much of the past two seasons, including all of this year’s Test schedule.

In Pocock’s absence, Hooper has quickly established himself as a world-class openside and competition for the No 7 jersey will be ferocious next year.

If Hooper and Pocock are both playing at their best in Super Rugby next year for the NSW Waratahs and the Brumbies, respectively, it will be a tough call for Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie.

Hooper is a better ball-runner than Pocock, who is the best player in the world competing at the breakdown.

A former rookie of the year (2012) and under-20 player of the year (2011), Hooper was also Super Rugby player of the year.

Australian rugby fans also voted Hooper Australia’s choice Wallaby of the year ahead of utility back Adam Ashley-Cooper and high-profile convert Israel Folau.

Hooper made his Test debut in the Wallabies’ upset loss to Scotland in Newcastle 16 months ago and finished third in last year’s John Eales medal. This year Hooper polled 297 votes, more than 100 ahead of his nearest rivals, No 8 Wycliff Palu (185) and Folau (177).

He polled in all but one of the 14 Tests in the voting period from last year’s European tour to last Saturday’s 41-33 loss to the All Blacks in Dunedin.

Ashley-Cooper and inside back Christian Lealiifano completed the top five with 131 and 102 votes respectively.

Folau, who switched to rugby this year after playing rugby league and Australian rules football, received the rookie of the year award after a sensational debut season in his third code.

He made an immediate impact on Test rugby by scoring two tries in his debut against the British and Irish Lions and has scored a further five tries since.

Wallabies halfback Will Genia received the try of the year award for setting up one of Folau’s two tries in the first Test against the Lions.

Con Foley and Sharni Williams won the men’s and women’s sevens player of the year awards and Steve Walsh was named referee of the year.

Peter Myers’s commitment to rugby was recognised by the Joe French Award, which goes to individuals who make a significant contribution to the game.

Source: The Australian

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