Rugby: Lions have slight advantage - Hooper

Rob Horne and Michael Hooper train ahead of the firstg Lions test. Photo / Getty Images
Rob Horne and Michael Hooper train ahead of the firstg Lions test. Photo / Getty Images

Wallabies flanker Michael Hooper admits the battle-hardened British and Irish Lions will enter Saturday night's first Test with a slight advantage from their lead up matches.

But Hooper believes any edge there will at least be evened out by Australia's recent unbeaten record over the Welsh players who are expected to dominate the Lions outfit.

The tourists are $1.57 favourites at the New Zealand TAB to win the series-opener at Suncorp Stadium as their Test players will enter the match with at least two warm-up matches under their belts.

In contrast, the Wallabies have been in an extended three-week training camp following 14 rounds of Super Rugby, raising concerns they won't be as match fit or sharp.

Australia have lost very winnable opening Tests of the previous two seasons, against Samoa in 2010 and Scotland last year.

Hooper, who is set to beat Liam Gill to the Wallabies No.7 jersey, said the extended camp had been a good chance to regenerate after the rigours of Super Rugby but admitted the Lions could claim some advantage after their lead up games.

"Maybe a little one at this level," said Hooper on Wednesday morning. "They've obviously been playing for a couple of weeks but we'll be fresh and once we hit the ground we'll be ready to go."

Hooper has the key breakdown scavenging role, with both David Pocock and George Smith sidelined by knee injuries.

Pocock has been a regular presence at training this week and been working closely with young openside flankers Hooper and Gill.

A Hooper, Wycliff Palu and Ben Mowen back-row is set to oppose Lions skipper Sam Warburton, Irish No.8 Jamie Heaslip and Tom Croft or Dan Lydiate.

Although it was very much a second-string side which was upset by the impressive Brumbies in Canberra on Tuesday night, Hooper felt that result could only help the Wallabies.

Both Hooper and Palu also argued a 6-0 record against Wales in the past 19 months, including a four-Test clean sweep last year, was a factor.

More than half the Lions starting side is expected to contain Welshman including key men Warburton, halfback Mike Phillips, prop Adam Jones, winger George North and fullback Leigh Halfpenny.

"We're expecting a large Welsh contingent in the team on the weekend and we played them a couple of times last year and got the win," Hooper said.

"We've had the luxury of playing them six times in the last two years and a few times last year so it can't hurt."


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