Michael Hooper: Waratahs missing breakdown trick

Michael Hooper believes the Waratahs need to adapt to the referee interpretations at the breakdown Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Waratahs veteran Michael Hooper says his side are missing a breakdown "trick" and need to adapt to referee interpretations to get better reward at the tackle.

The Waratahs were smashed at the breakdown by the Chiefs in Wollongong last Friday, the New Zealanders forcing a number of turnovers while referee Angus Gardner penalized NSW on multiple occasions for holding on in the tackle or other infringements like side entry.

Asked to identify where exactly the Waratahs hadn't performed around the tackle contest in the 51-14 defeat, Hooper said much of it was down to simple handling errors and a lack of numbers around the ball.

"We've got to land in the right parts of the field; also if you watch last week we watched a review and noticed if you make a skill error, then we're getting to the wrong part of the field and then we're starting to not have the right guys around the ball," Hooper told reporters on Tuesday.

"A bit of pressure from the opposition, and we had a lot of unforced errors last week in pretty favourable conditions, and that hurt us. Cold drops, we'd run to the wrong part, but other teams have the same problem.

"We just lacked a bit of urgency in that area last week. And the Chiefs did that well at the breakdown."

Having stepped down from the Waratahs captaincy, Hooper said he at last had the opportunity to watch more "code" and had picked up on one particular breakdown trend in the process.

"I'm surprised at the breakdown, I'm surprised at how referees are allowing guys I don't think to support their weight," Hooper said.

"So [I'm] seeing a lot of guys, particularly tall guys, with their legs pretty much extended and their forearms quite in and around the ground, with no potential to steal the ball, and they're getting away with it.

"They're doing it well, teams are doing it really well, and we're probably not doing it as well as we could be, particularly for someone like myself looking at how we can turn over ball and get the ball back so we can attack.

"I think we're missing a trick there.

"If that's the way the game is going to be refereed then we have to start adapting to that."

Their season hanging by a thread after a 1-4 start to the season, the Waratahs face a daunting challenge on Sunday when they head down the Hume Highway to Canberra to face the in-form Brumbies.

Having knocked off the Chiefs on the road in Hamilton and then taken apart the Sunwolves in their rearranged match in the first of the back-to-back games in Wollongong, the Brumbies are flying high at the top of the Australian conference.

"It's a great game, they've really hit their stride nicely, and we haven't," Hooper said of the Brumbies.

"We've had one decent game, and patches.

"I'm pumped about it, a lot of the boys are pumped about this match-up, we get to go down there to Canberra on Sunday."

Sunday's match also pits Hooper against former understudy Will Miller, who moved down to Canberra in search of greater opportunities in the No. 7 shirt. Brumbies coach Dan McKellar has sung Miller's praises after the flanker's efforts against both the Chiefs and Sunwolves, the 27-year-old part of a growing queue of openside flankers hoping to dislodge Hooper from the Wallabies No. 7 jersey.

"It's good to see him get some good time, he's a good kid," Hooper said.

"I enjoyed playing with Will, enjoyed him being a Waratah first and his time around here.

"They've got a solid back-row with him, Pete [Samu] and Robbie [Valetini], they're doing good things."