Captain Michael Hooper pulled out of the Wallabies Rugby Championship test against Argentina 24 hours before kick-off, saying he was not in the ‘right frame of mind’ to lead or represent the country.
The tireless flanker was named to lead the side in their 122nd Test on Sunday morning (AEST) but will now return to Australia, missing both games against Pumas. Fellow Test centurion James Slipper will captain the team in Mendoza, while Fraser McReight will replace Hooper in the number seven jersey.
“Although this decision was not made easily, I know it is the right one for me and for the team at this point,” Hooper said in a statement. “My whole career I have sought to put the team first and I don’t feel able to fulfill my responsibilities at the moment in my current state of mind.”
Hooper addressed his teammates ahead of the announcement, telling the team he had the utmost confidence they could win the Tests against Argentina without him.
Coach Dave Rennie said his 30-year-old captain had shown “genuine courage”.
“Michael is one of the most professional and impressive men I have coached, I know it was a tough decision for him,” he said. “He showed real courage in acknowledging where he is and acting on it. We will support him in any way we can and I know the team will be focused on getting the job done tomorrow.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said there were no signs of angst from Hooper during the week. “Nothing was obvious to us in the way he trained, how he contributed to the team, the leadership was great, but clearly he struggled a bit and was covering it up enough fine,” Rennie told Argentine reporters on Saturday (AEST).
“Obviously he’s been able to pull things off over the last few weeks and we certainly weren’t aware of anything, but he’s such a professional and he was able to go on and get the job done.
“He spoke to the team today who took a tremendous amount of courage to let them know that he was not well and that he thought it was better for him and for the team than he’s coming home “It was an easy decision to let him go home where he’ll have a lot of support around him.”
Hooper contacted Wallabies team doctor Sharron Flahive, who set the wheels in motion for his homecoming. He will return to Sydney with Waratahs team-mate Dave Porecki, who is unavailable for both Tests due to a head injury in training.
Hooper captained Australia in their recent 2-1 loss to England at home and has been a regular feature in the squad since his debut in 2012.
The Wallabies have a busy schedule in the coming months. After two Tests in Argentina, they return to Australia for Rugby League Tests against reigning world champions South Africa and then a two-Test series against New Zealand as they attempt to create a momentum for the Rugby World Cup in France next year.
“Michael is an incredible leader, it takes a brave man to identify where he is and present himself while having the best interests of the team at heart,” said Rugby Australia boss Andy Marinos. “His well-being is and remains the top priority at this time where Rugby Australia and the Australian rugby community will do everything to support him and his family.”
Last year, Hooper took a six-month sabbatical to quit Australian rugby and play in Japan’s Top League. He then took another contractual leave and missed most of the 2021 Super Rugby season for the NSW Waratahs.
Although Hooper returned for the final part of the 2021 Super Rugby Pasifika season and led the Wallabies with the usual aplomb in the recent home series against England, Hooper has spoken openly in the past about the stresses of the sport professional, leadership pressure and effects. social media on young players.
“You try to be the best you can be and sometimes that doesn’t work out, and when it doesn’t work out it’s hard to deal with,” Hooper has told media in the past. “I think it’s important, especially for young players, to be educated on how to deal with this.
“Players talk to each other about it a lot better,” Hooper said. “It’s definitely something that’s paramount, how people feel. There’s so much going on, you see so many things constantly bombarding you about your work, day in and day out.