Hardened Hooper hopes to break down Highlanders

Lee Gaskin March 23, 2012

Sam Carter at Brumbies training yesterday. Carter will start against the Highlanders tomorrow in place of Scott Fardy.

Sam Carter at Brumbies training yesterday. Carter will start against the Highlanders tomorrow in place of Scott Fardy. Photo: Karleen Minney

Flanker Michael Hooper says the ACT Brumbies have been given a valuable insight into how to stop the rampaging Otago Highlanders from dominating at the breakdown.

The Brumbies will take on New Zealand opposition for the second straight week when they host the unbeaten Highlanders at Canberra Stadium tomorrow night.

The Highlanders are the benchmark in the Super Rugby competition, having won four straight games on the back of a powerful forward pack intent on poaching the ball at every opportunity.

After going close to upsetting the Waikato Chiefs in Tauranga last weekend, Hooper hopes those lessons will help the Brumbies counteract the Highlanders' intense pilfering at the breakdown.

''The good thing for us is just coming off playing the Chiefs, the Kiwi teams have a similar style of attacking the breakdown,'' Hooper said.

''The Highlanders are obviously very good at it but it's nothing too dissimilar to the Chiefs.

''If they get a bit of a sniff of turnover ball they will commit a lot of guys to getting it, and have had a lot of success doing that.

''We're working on a few things to nullify that.''

The Brumbies held their own against an under-rated Chiefs forward pack but let themselves down with basic errors.

''I thought we did well, they're a good team at it,'' Hooper said.

''We managed to secure a lot of our own ball and were quite successful.

''Our biggest downfall was not holding on to ball when we had it, rather than changing a whole different game plan.''

Brumbies forwards coach Laurie Fisher has been instrumental in developing a hard-nosed edge to all facets of the team's play.

Fisher held the same position with Irish powerhouse Munster, and it's clear he's translated the physical style of European rugby over to the Brumbies.

''Laurie's been great as part of the forwards this year,'' Hooper said.

''The structure and everything around the phase play in particular, so we've had a good focus on that from day one.

''I think it's paying off as a team in both attack and defence.''

There are two changes to the Brumbies' starting team, with Nic White taking over from Ian Prior at scrumhalf and lock Sam Carter replacing Scott Fardy.

Fisher said it was important that the Brumbies continued to rotate players throughout the long season.

''I anticipate we have a number of positions we'll be trying not to wear players out.

''I think we look across the squad and we've got faith in the quality of players and faith in our depth to give people opportunity.''

''It's physically tough and mentally tough, there's no easy games.

''When it's your watch you've got to go out and do your best.''

Fisher admitted it would be a challenge for the Brumbies to respond to last weekend's close loss to the Chiefs against the unbeaten Highlanders.

''That is the challenge, you put your heart and soul into a performance and it wasn't good enough, so working on that rebound is important.

''But I think there's tremendous character in this side and tremendous desire.''

''[The Highlanders] don't have any weaknesses in their game, they do have quite a varied attack … they challenge you constantly and they challenge you in all parts of the field.

''It'll be a very tough day out for us,'' Fisher said.

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