Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has maintained fallen coach Ewen McKenzie never lost the respect of his players before quitting.
Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has denied Ewen McKenzie lost the respect of his players – but stopped short of saying the beleaguered coach quit too soon.
ARU chief Bill Pulver claimed after accepting McKenzie’s resignation that McKenzie felt he had lost the dressing room, but Hooper on Sunday maintained that was not the case.
Hooper said Australia’s gallant 29-28 loss to all-conquering New Zealand in Brisbane on Saturday night proved the Wallabies were a united lot, the fallen coach included.
“He didn’t lose the respect of the players. He really showed what he’s worth in the back-end of the week and we played for him,” Hooper said in Brisbane.
“I made the statement on Friday it had been a tough week but we played for everyone in this group and that’s players, that’s staff, that’s fans back home.
“That’s who you’re trying to represent and Ewen’s no exception to that.
“I’m very proud of the team effort last night. After the game, to come in and finish like that, it was a blow to hear about Ewen’s departure after the match.”
Hooper on match eve also denied a Waratahs-led split had divided the Wallabies amid reports NSW players were siding with troubled playmaker Kurtley Beale in the bitter fallout from his in-flight confrontation and lewd text message exchange with McKenzie’s former staffer Di Patston.
While on Sunday he was adamant McKenzie had been good for the Wallabies, Hooper left the issue lingering when he declined to directly answer if the coach had misread the situation and erred in resigning.
“You’ve got to respect his decision as an individual,” the skipper said.
“So he’s got his reasons for those and we respect those as a team and we need to move forward.
“Link’s been great for us. As a playing group, he’s put a lot of great things in place.”
Hooper said the Wallabies’ immediate focus now must be on regrouping ahead of Friday’s departure to Europe for their five-match spring tour.
“In two weeks, we play the Barbarians and the next four weeks we have hard Test matches ahead,” Hooper said.
“So, for us, while Link was a great coach, a guy that helped a lot of players out, we’ve got to look forward.
“That’s what we’ll be doing from now on.
“We head back to camp on Thursday and we move forward and that’s an exciting challenge for us.”