‘I was bloody nervous’: Hooper stars on Aussie sevens debut, women on track in HK despite red card


Michael Hooper has produced a trademark play as Australia beat Fiji in the former Wallabies captain’s rugby sevens debut.

But the 125-Test flanker also learned the pitfalls of the seven-a-side game at the marquee World Series event in Hong Kong on Friday as he later came off the bench again only to taste his first defeat against France.

Hooper was made to wait for his first taste of the action, injected with little more than two minutes remaining against the Olympic champs Fiji with his side ahead 12-0.

That’s how the score remained, thanks in part to the 32-year-old who has designs on an Olympic debut in Paris in July.

Michael Hooper celebrated his first World Series Sevens match in style by making a breakdown turnover against Fiji to end the match. Photo: World Rugby

He made back-to-back tackles off a scrum before he was penalised taking his first hit-up.

But Hooper worked back to disrupt play and then had the final say, winning a penalty with some trademark pilfering at the breakdown.

Injury niggles had delayed Hooper’s arrival on the sevens scene, leaving him with just two more tournaments after the Hong Kong leg of the world series to push his case for a Games berth.

Australia, world series champions for the first time in 2022, will arrive in France among a large group of nations in gold-medal contention.

“I was bloody nervous today and before the match; sitting on the bench is new to me,” Hooper said post-game.

“It’s pretty special to play in Hong Kong; it’s bucket-list stuff and I’m happy to get one under the belt.

“Big win, but we’ve got to go again against the French tonight, doesn’t get any easier.”

Australia celebrate their first-up win against Fiji in Hong Kong. Photo: World Rugby

He was right. Brought on again with two-and-a-half minutes left, with the Australians seemingly cruising 14-5 up against France, Hooper got wrapped up while charging towards the line, the ball was turned over and the French hit back to score two late tries and snatch a 19-14 win.

It was a disappointment for coach John Manenti’s outfit as Maurice Longbottom had earlier put Australia well in command with a brilliant individual second-half grubber-and-chase score.

Worryingly, the mercurial Longbottom also had to go off later wincing from an apparent rib injury, while defeat meant Australia need to beat Canada in their last group game on Saturday to guarantee a spot in the quarter-finals.

Australia’s series-leading women won both their games on day one, albeit in contrasting fashion as they suffered another red card for a high tackle.

The Rio Olympic champions were staring down the barrel of their first loss to Fiji in their 35-game head-to-head history.

Trailing 12-0 after just four minutes they found a way back, Faith Nathan hitting top gear then veteran Sharni Smale powering over from close-range.

Madison Ashby then paid the price for not lowering her height, clashing heads attempting a tackle and copping the team’s fourth red card of the season.

Maddison Levi continued her rich tryscoring form on day one of the Hong Kong Sevens. Photo: World Rugby

Still they found a way, Maddison Levi scoring and then laying a crucial tackle in the final stages to secure the win.

They then turned the tables on Ireland, a 35-0 shut-out an emphatic response to the underdogs’ upset win in the Perth decider in January.

Ruby Nicholas iced the five-try drubbing, breaking away to score on her debut, leaving Australia in the box seat to top their pool ahead of a final round-robin clash with South Africa on Saturday.


Pool B
Australia 19 defeated Fiji 12
Australia 35 defeated Ireland 0

Saturday, April 6
Australia v South Africa – 2:25pm (AEDT)


Pool A
Australia 12 defeated Fiji 0
France 19 defeated Australia 14

Saturday, April 6
Australia v Canada – 4:20pm (AEDT)

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