In a sea of change, Michael Hooper is the closest thing the Wallabies have to continuity.
Alongside reigning John Eales Medallist Marika Koroibete, the 28-year-old is one of just two Australian players who will start Sunday’s opening Bledisloe Cup match from the Wallabies’ losing World Cup quarter-final last year.
There’s a new coach in Dave Rennie, who brings a new style and game plan.
There are new players, including four who will debut at Wellington’s Sky Stadium on Sunday.
There’s the challenge of quarantine and the radical schedule shake-up that includes four clashes with the All Blacks before a home Rugby Championship.
But there’s the same captain – Hooper – and he has an occasion to celebrate.
At the ‘caketin’ this weekend against the All Blacks, the long-time Waratahs flanker will notch 100 caps, and he is relishing the occasion and the challenge.
“I’ve had some really lovely messages. From ex-players, current players, people I respect, family, randoms,” he said.
“I’ve been very lucky to get some, get some really, really beautiful messages from those guys and people that meant a lot to me.
“I’ll get 100 … and then we’ve got a bunch of guys on the other side of the spectrum here on the weekend. It’s a good full circle for our team.”
Hooper says the whole Wallabies squad is feeling fresher for the shake-up.
“Everything’s shuffled. Everything’s changed. We’ve been able to play on that a bit and enjoy the change that’s come,” he said.
“There’s a new level of enthusiasm around (players) wanting to get their hands on jerseys, wanting to perform in the jersey and wanting to do some things that we’ve talked about as a team and what we want to be recognised as.”
Australia haven’t beaten New Zealand away for 19 years and will start as rank outsiders against the Kiwis.
On Saturday, All Blacks captain Sam Cane recognised Hooper’s service but said the well-wishes wouldn’t extend to Sunday.
“Hoops is a seriously impressive man. Seriously combative too,” he said.
“Congratulations to him. We’ll be doing our best to spoil his party but it’s no mean feat and he’s been an outstanding servant to Australian rugby.”