The French team said Monday they see young Wallabies flanker Michael Hooper as the danger man, ahead of this weekend’s opening rugby Test in Brisbane.
Les Bleus coach Philippe Saint-Andre and skipper Thierry Dusautoir both highly rated the powerful number seven before Saturday’s game at Suncorp Stadium.
Saint-Andre likened the 22-year-old to Australia’s 111-Test great George Smith, whom he coached at Toulon in 2010-11, and felt Hooper was just as important to the current Australian side.
Saint-Andre highlighted the openside forager’s ability by showing his tour squad footage of Hooper’s sharp, one-handed pilfer early on in the Wallabies’ last Test against Wales on November 30.
The quick turnover immediately set in motion a scintillating backline try which led to Christian Lealiifano scoring in the Wallabies’ 30-26 win at Millennium Stadium.
“(Hooper) reminds me of George Smith and I coached George at Toulon and I feel he’s (Hooper) improved a lot,” Saint-Andre told reporters in Brisbane.
“In the contact area he’s often the first to get his hands on the ball.
“Any contested ball, he creates a lot of turnovers and when you know the quality and the skills and the speed of the Australian backs he’s a key player for that.
“We have done a lot of work on the ruck contest and we showed how much he contested in the Tests in November. We saw how many turnovers he gets, and one was brilliant against Wales, which saw a fantastic try by the backline.”
Dusautoir, rated among the best flankers in the game, won his 2011 player of the year award for an inspirational display in Les Bleus’ 8-7 World Cup final loss to the All Blacks.
He also pointed to the danger Hooper presents at the breakdown.
“We have to work hard on our rucks to be efficient because we really fear him,” he said.
France have not won in Australia for 24 years and Saint-Andre said victory over the third-ranked Wallabies would be psychologically important for them 15 months before the World Cup.
Australia, to be led by hooker Stephen Moore, play France in three Tests, starting in Brisbane on Saturday and followed by internationals in Melbourne (June 14) and Sydney (June 21).