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Hughes in Wallabies' thoughts

Australia's rugby stars will wear black armbands against England at Twickenham on Saturday in a mark of respect after the tragic death of cricketer Phillip Hughes.

Captain Michael Hooper said the Wallabies will be "thinking of Phil and his family" as they take to the field for the Twickenham autumn Test.

Australia batsman Hughes died on Thursday, two days after being struck on the head by a bouncer in action for South Australia against New South Wales.

Wallabies skipper Hooper admitted coach Michael Cheika's squad have been in "sombre mood" since learning of the 25-year-old's death.

"There has been a bit of talk about wearing black armbands, and of course if we're allowed to do that we will," said Hooper.

"We've got enough motivation this weekend, but when we're wearing the black armbands, we'll be thinking of him and his family.

"It's the kind of news you never want to wake up to.

"All of us this morning checking our phones: for us as a team it's a pretty sombre mood.

"We play in a sport luckily where we don't see these things happen.

"We love our cricket; we have good feelings towards the cricketers. Our thoughts and feelings are with his family and the team back home."

Australia's rugby and cricket teams have mixed socially owing to the friendship between former Wallabies boss Ewen McKenzie and Darren Lehmann, the cricket side's coach.

Hooper said while none of the Wallabies had strong friendships with Hughes, the whole squad were keen to mark their condolences with a public gesture this weekend.

"We had a dinner with the cricket lads when they were getting together to do promotions for their season," said Hooper.

"It was really relaxed, and a good atmosphere, it was a good fun evening.

"It was nice to meet guys in a similar situation to us. It's more just a reminder of how lucky we are as a team to play for your country and play sport.

"It's a great thing we do here playing rugby, and I'm sure the cricketers are feeling the same.

"I've seen the Australian public really extending their well-wishes.

"Australia loves its sport and that shows positively what our nation's about.

"You put any risks to the back of your mind: you do play because of that risk element to some extent, to push yourself and challenge yourself.

"So to a certain extent that's why we're here and that's what drives us."

Australia will return to Twickenham on Saturday, October 3 next year for the two sides' keenly-anticipated Pool A Rugby World Cup clash.

Hooper rejected any suggestions of Saturday's clash doubling as a World Cup "trial" however.

"We won't be looking at it like it will set us up for the World Cup," said Hooper.

"Right now it's another opportunity to play at Twickenham,

"We will be playing the English there again next year, but we're not calling it a trial match or anything like that.

"It's just another opportunity for us to play at Twickenham and to try to play how we want to play."

England's midfield combination is less clear than ever given George Ford has replaced Owen Farrell at fly-half and Billy Twelvetrees has been restored after exile at 12.

Australia can boast comparative continuity given the seamless inside-back partnership of Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley and Matt Toomua.

The Wallabies' nine-10-12 axis tore Ireland to shreds at times in last weekend's 26-23 loss in Dublin, and Hooper admitted his men will try to exploit any dominance there again.

"With a relatively new 10, and a 12 that's been there a while, it's a channel that you've got to be strong down, and for us this weekend we'll be looking to go there," said Hooper.

"We've got threats all over the backline though, so it would be silly to focus all our strikes in one area.

"We were very strong in midfield in Dublin, we are on the up even though we lost.

"We've got to be even more physical again this weekend: England are in good nick regardless of what the ledger says on results."


From Belfast Telegraph