SYDNEY (Reuters) - Michael Hooper will captain his country for a record 60th time when he runs out for the Wallabies against the Springboks in Brisbane on Saturday, and he will do so with the ringing endorsement of his coach in his ears.
The openside flanker, still a month short of his 30th birthday, has led Australia in the test arena for most of the last decade, during which he has been almost an ever-present in the side.
Dave Rennie, who did not hesitate to reappoint Hooper to the role when he took over as coach in 2020, said this week he would be "gobsmacked" if anyone questioned his playing qualities.
"You talk to players around the world and he's hugely respected," the New Zealander told reporters.
"He's a Wallaby great. If he was playing in a different era when you had a team full of very experienced and seasoned players and you're dominating the world, he'd go down as one of the best players in the world and one of the greats.
"He's just so resilient. Even the other day against the All Blacks, Brodie Retallick splits him open, he gets 20 odd stitches, puts a hat on and jumps back on out there and gives the same intensity."
Although he played in the 2015 World Cup final, Hooper's nine-year test career has encompassed a mostly disappointing era for Australian rugby.
Hooper, though, was not about to join his coach in conjecture about his status had he played in Australia's golden age.
"That's not even something to consider, I'm here, I'm now," he told reporters on Friday.
"I've been more than lucky being around some of the teams and players I have been. I've loved it."
The skate-boarding son of an Englishman who grew up on Sydney's northern beaches, Hooper learned from the very best when he started his career with the ACT Brumbies as understudy to George Smith.
He made his test debut in an infamous loss to Scotland in gale force Newcastle winds in 2012 but was soon first choice to replace David Pocock on the openside during the master jackal's frequent injury absences.
Hard running with ball in hand, an apparently indefatigable tackler and capable of more than the odd ball steal himself, Hooper was the third youngest Wallabies captain ever when Ewen McKenzie asked him to lead the side in 2014.
While three John Eales Medals as Australia's Player of the Year in eight seasons speak volumes for his playing skills, there have been critics of his captaincy.
There was for a while the perception that he rubbed referees the wrong way, and his tendency to kick for the corner rather than take three points from a penalty has often been slammed.
Last week on the Gold Coast, however, he erred towards pointing at the posts and Quade Cooper rewarded him by kicking Australia to victory over world champions South Africa.
On Saturday, he will play his 113th test as he overhauls George Gregan's Australian record for internationals as skipper.
"You hang around long enough and that sort of thing's going to happen," Hooper laughed with typical self-deprecation on Friday.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)