Captain Michael Hooper has withdrawn from the Wallabies’ rugby championship test against Argentina 24 hours before kick-off, saying he is not in the “right attitude” to lead or represent the country.
The tireless flanker was expected to lead the side in his 122nd Test on Sunday morning (AEST) but will now return to Australia as he misses both games against the Pumas. Fellow Test centurion James Slipper will lead the team in Mendoza, while Fraser McReight will replace Hooper in the number seven shirt.
“While this decision has not been taken lightly, I know it is the right one for me and the team at this time,” Hooper said in a statement. “All my career I’ve tried to put the team first and right now I don’t feel able to fulfill my responsibilities in my current mindset.”
Hooper reached out to teammates ahead of the announcement, telling the squad he had the utmost confidence they could win the Tests against Argentina without him.
Coach Dave Rennie said his 30-year-old captain showed “true courage”.
“Michael is one of the most professional and impressive men I have coached. I know this was a difficult decision for him,” he said. “He has shown true courage by 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.”
Hooper captained Australia in their recent 2-1 home defeat by England and has been a regular feature of the side since his debut in 2012.
The Wallabies have a massive schedule in the coming months. After two Tests in Argentina, they return to Australia for Rugby Championship Tests against reigning world champions South Africa and then two Test series against New Zealand as they try to build momentum for next year’s Rugby World Cup in France.
“Michael is an incredible leader, it takes a brave man to see where he stands and come forward while having the team’s best interests at heart,” said Rugby Australia boss Andy Marinos. “His wellbeing is and will remain the number one priority at the moment where Rugby Australia and the Australian rugby community will do everything possible to support him and his family.”
Hooper took a six-month sabbatical last year to leave Australian rugby and play in Japan’s top league under former All Blacks mentor Steve Hansen. A ‘flexible’ contract signed in 2019 allowed him to then take further contractual leave and miss most of the 2021 Super Rugby season for the NSW Waratahs.
Despite returning for the latter part of the 2021 Super Rugby Pacifica season and leading the Wallabies in their most recent home series against England with usual aplomb, Hooper has in the past spoken openly about the strains of professional sport, the pressures of leadership and the impact of social media on young players.
“You’re trying to be the best you can be and sometimes that doesn’t work out, and when it doesn’t work that’s hard to cope with,” Hooper told media in 2019. “I think it’s important, especially for young players, to learn how to deal with it.
“Players are getting a lot better at talking to each other about this,” Hooper said. “It is certainly something that is of paramount importance how people feel. There’s so much going on, you see so much stuff that’s constantly bombarding you with your job day in and day out.”