Australia flanker Michael Hooper's hopes of facing the All Blacks in Sydney next week suffered a blow yesterday when Sanzar launched an appeal against the one-week ban he was handed for striking Argentina's Nicolás Sánchez.
The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) responded to the decision by Sanzar, the governing body of southern hemisphere rugby, by saying they intended to not only vigorously defend Hooper against further punishment but also appeal the original ban.
Charged to the line
The former Wallabies captain landed the blow after being held back by outhalf Sánchez while trying to support Dean Mumm as the lock charged to the line to score a try in Australia's 34-9 victory over the Pumas in Mendoza last weekend.
After six hours of deliberations over Wednesday and Thursday, the judicial officer handed Hooper a two-week ban for “striking or punching”, which was reduced to one week because of his exemplary record.
Although Australia do not have a Test this weekend, Hooper will miss a match for his club Manly and then be free to play for his country in the Rugby Championship decider against New Zealand in Sydney on August 8th.
Sanzar, however, said yesterday that an appeal against the punishment would be heard by a three-man committee tomorrow, a decision that left the ARU “extremely disappointed”.
“The ARU will vigorously defend the Sanzar appeal on the severity of the sanction handed to the player,” the ARU said. “Furthermore, the ARU intends to cross-appeal the judicial officer’s original finding that the player was guilty of committing an act of foul play.”
Australia coach Michael Cheika is likely to be furious at the distraction ahead of such a big test, particularly as he felt Hooper had been guilty of no more violence than would be used in a hand-off or fend.
“We’re still disappointed that he was found guilty because he was really adamant about the open hand and the push to the back,” Cheika said.
Although Australia also have David Pocock to fill the number seven shirt, Cheika has used both openside flankers in the closing stages of the first two matches of the championship.
Number eight Wycliff Palu and centre Matt Giteau have been recalled to the Australia squad for next week's decider against New Zealand with uncapped prop Toby Smith also getting the nod for the Sydney Test.
Palu was rested for the victories over South Africa and Argentina and returns in place of Scott Higginbotham, while a recall for Giteau after he missed the Test against the Pumas with a sternum injury means winger Nick Cummins drops out.
Smith was rewarded for a fine season with the Melbourne Rebels and, with four props required on matchday, looks likely to make his debut against the All Blacks at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday week.
Australia could win a first southern hemisphere title since 2011 if they can beat the world champions in the final round of the Rugby Championship, which is shortened this year because of the World Cup.
It has also been four years since the Wallabies last beat New Zealand and Cheika is under no illusion as to how much work it will take to beat the world’s best team.
“The reality is, they’re the world champions, we’re the underdogs,” Cheika said. “What we need to do is to focus every day at training, use every single minute to get ready to face the world’s best. That’s all we can do.”