Citing mindset, Hooper withdrawn from tour

Rugby

Captain Michael Hooper has withdrawn from the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship Test against Argentina 24 hours before kick-off, saying he isn’t in the “right mindset” to lead or represent the country.

The tireless flanker had been named to lead the side in his 122nd Test on Sunday morning (AEST) but will now return to Australia, missing both matches against the Pumas.

Fellow Test centurion James Slipper will captain the side in Mendoza, while Fraser McReight will replace Hooper in the number seven jersey.

“While this decision did not come easily I know it is the right one for me and the team at this point in time,” Hooper said in a statement.

“My whole career I’ve looked to put the team first and I don’t feel I am able to fulfill my responsibilities at the moment in my current mindset.”

Coach Dave Rennie said his captain, aged 30, had shown “true courage” and had shown no signs he’d been struggling while training through the week.

“Michael’s one of the most professional and impressive men I’ve coached I know this has been a difficult decision for him,” he said.

“He’s shown true courage by acknowledging where he is at 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.

“Nothing that was evident to us, how he trained, how he contributed around the team on leadership was excellent, but clearly he’s been struggling a bit and masking that pretty well.

“But it came to a head last night [Thursday] and he was brave enough to call [Wallabies doctor] Sharon [Flahive] and have a chat with her to get an understanding of where he’s at. So the concern is all around his health and it was an easy decision to let him go home.”

Speaking to the media on Saturday morning, Rennie would not put a timeline on Hooper’s absence and spoke of the respect the playing group has for their captain.

“It’s not uncommon in life, is it? It’s a cross-section of society and often men will say bugger all and suffer in silence.

“It took a huge amount of courage for him to address the group, so a huge amount of respect from everyone and respect that we want to get him home and get as much support around him as possible.”

Hooper captained Australia during their recent 2-1 series loss to England at home and has been a regular presence in the side since making his debut in 2012.

The Wallabies, who have a World Cup in France next year, return to Australia for Rugby Championship Tests against South Africa and New Zealand beginning later this month.

“Michael is an incredible leader, it takes a brave man to identify where he’s at and come forward whilst having the best interests of the team at heart,” Rugby Australia boss Andy Marinos said.

“His wellbeing is and remains the highest priority right now where Rugby Australia and the Australian Rugby community will do everything to support him and his family.”

Moving into the vacant No.7 jersey, McReight will add to his two Test caps with Rennie confident his Australia A performances have him prepared for a Test recall.

“Yeah, that’s the great thing about the Australia A program, he had three 80-minute performances, so condition wise it’s not an issue,” Rennie said. “They use the same structures as us, he’s been in our group in the past, so he’ll slot in seamlessly. While it’s disappointing for Hoops, it’s a great opportunity for Fraser.”

Hooper will return to Australia alongside Waratahs teammate Dave Porecki who suffered a head knock at training and will miss the opening two Test matches.

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