Van Nek, Hooper not letting World Cup ambition distract from Brumbies duties

Fri, May 12, 2023, 6:21 AM
ACT Brumbies Media
by ACT Brumbies Media
Photo: Lachlan Lawson
Photo: Lachlan Lawson

Being on the Wallabies radar during a World Cup year is an exciting but daunting prospect.

There is added pressure associated with each Super Rugby game, which can be unsettling for those in the early stages of their professional careers.


Despite being put under the microscope by Wallabies Head Coach Eddie Jones, Brumbies young guns Rhys Van Nek and Tom Hooper have put their focus on Brumbies duties, as the ACT eye off a top-two finish in the Super Rugby Pacific competition.

23-year-old Van Nek has earnt himself a chance to play on the largest stage in the game, the Rugby World Cup, the prop receiving a call up to the recent Wallabies training camp.


That call came as quite a shock to the former Melbourne Rebel. Van Nek was looking after his 7-month-old mini cavoodle Luca, who had recently come out of surgery for a broken leg, when his phone rang, with Wallabies Manager Chris Webb on the other end of the line.


“I wasn’t thinking about being called up late, after the squad had already been announced. I was at home just looking after it [Luca] just coming out of surgery.” Van Nek said.

“I was sitting on the couch and got the call. I looked at my partner straight away and she had just heard the Wallabies part.”


“The next 10 seconds of what Webby said I just did not even listen to. It was so good, I was stoked.”


Week in week out, Van Nek is surrounded by some of the most experienced players in the Wallabies squad with the likes of James Slipper, Nic White and skipper Allan Alaalatoa, so the support and experience on offer for the young prop is invaluable.


“At the start of the year I wasn’t thinking I would get to here. I’m taking everything on, listening to everybody and just being a sponge.”


“I’ve got so many older guys here I can learn off, and the coaches are world-class as well, so there’s so much I can soak in”. Van Nek said.


Absorbing the Wallabies experience, Van Nek’s has put any personal accolades aside and has turned his focus back with the Brumbies as the process-driven side take each week as it comes.


Within the Brumbies environment, they have demanded more one another each week and are continuing to strive for a consistent brand of footy leading into the business end of the season.


“Something I have found this year, is that everyone is pushing each other to be better and just building consistent games off that and consistently training at a high level.” Van Nek said.


One Brumby that knows the importance of consistency all too well is Tom Hooper. The versatile young lock has been sidelined from the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific competition, but made his return ahead of schedule in last Sunday's win against the Rebels.

The 22-year-old lock underwent major shoulder surgery after the 2022 Super Rugby season, and then suffered a rare, season-halting foot injury during a pre-season trial match in February.


“I wasn’t counting or anything, but I’m pretty sure it was over 300 days since I put on the jersey and played Super Rugby.” Hooper said.


“You have peaks and troughs in amongst that, and it’s always a hard process”.


During the frustrating rehabilitation process, Hooper was able to shave 4 weeks off his sideline stint as he made his return in the Brumbies win over the Rebels on the weekend.


Although on the cusp of a Wallabies call up in 2022, playing just the one game so far has more than likely put the young gun out of World Cup contention. In a testament to his character, Hooper has unselfishly focused on getting back to his best for the team, and cementing a spot in the Brumbies starting side.


“Realistically, my goal this year is to play for the Brumbies, play really well for the Brumbies and if we get the cherry on top with a Super Rugby championship at the end of year, then I'll be over the moon.” Hooper stated.


It can be hard to see which piece of the puzzle he fits into during such a successful season, but Hooper is an extremely versatile player.


Capable of playing at lock or in the back row, Hooper even fancies himself in the number ten jersey if he had it his way.


“Obviously I’m versatile, so that gives me a good spot on the bench to cover a few positions, but I’d be really happy to fight my way into a starting position wherever that is best for the team.” Hooper said.


“We got some really class acts in those positions so it’s hard for me to do that, but competition on the training field and competition on game days hopefully I can fight my back into a starting jersey.”


With plenty more opportunity to showcase their talents to Wallabies selectors, the Brumbies pair continue to refine their skills and build on the Brumbies team culture.

Van Nek and Hooper come off the bench this weekend as the Brumbies go head-to-head with the Highlanders this Mother’s Day at GIO Stadium. 

Words: Ollie Speldewinde