Wallabies captain Michael Hooper withdraws from tour, citing ‘mindset’ | Sport

Captain Michael Hooper has withdrawn from the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship test against Argentina 24 hours before kick-off because he does not have the “right attitude” to lead or represent the country.

The tireless flanker was assigned to take the lead in his 122nd test on Sunday morning (AEST), but now returns to Australia and misses both games against the Pumas. Fellow Test centurion James Slipper will captain Mendoza, while Fraser McReight will replace Hooper in the number seven jersey.

“While this decision didn’t come easy, I know it’s the right one for me and the team right now,” Hooper said in a statement. “All my career I’ve tried to put the team first and I don’t feel like I’m capable of fulfilling my responsibilities in my current way of thinking at the moment.”

Hooper spoke to teammates ahead of the announcement and told the squad that he was confident they could win the tests against Argentina without him.

Coach Dave Rennie said his captain, aged 30, had shown “real courage”.

“Michael is one of the most professional and impressive men I have coached. I know this has been a difficult decision for him,” he said. “He has shown real courage in recognizing where he stands and acting on it. We will support him in any way we can and I know the team will focus on getting the job done tomorrow.”

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said there were no signs of Hooper’s anxiety all week. “Nothing was clear to us in how he trained, how he contributed to the team, around leadership was excellent, but clearly he struggled a bit and masked that pretty well,” Rennie told reporters from Argentina (AEST) on Saturday.

“Obviously he’s been able to suppress things over the past few weeks and so we weren’t aware of anything for sure, but he’s such a professional and he was able to get to work and get the job done.

“He spoke to the team today, which took an enormous amount of courage to let them know that he is not well and that he felt it was best for himself and for the team that he came home. “It was an easy one decision to let him go home, where he will have a lot of support around him.”

Hooper reached out to Wallabies team doctor Sharron Flahive, who set the wheels in motion for his return home. He will travel back to Sydney with Waratahs team-mate Dave Porecki, who is unavailable for both Tests due to a training head knock.

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

The Wallabies have a daunting program in the coming months. After two tests in Argentina they return to Australia for the Rugby Championship tests against reigning world champions South Africa and then a series of two tests against New Zealand as they try to build momentum for the Rugby World Cup in France next year .

“Michael is an incredible leader, it takes a brave man to define where he stands and come forward while putting the interests of the team first,” said Andy Marinos, the boss of Rugby Australia. “His well-being is and will remain the top priority at the moment, where Rugby Australia and the Australian rugby community will do everything in their power to support him and his family.”

Hooper took a six-month sabbatical last year to leave Australian rugby and play in the Japanese Top League. He then took further contractual leave and missed most of the 2021 Super Rugby season for the NSW Waratahs.

Although Hooper returned for the latter part of the 2021 Super Rugby Pasifika season and led the Wallabies with usual confidence in the recent home series against England, Hooper has spoken openly in the past about the stresses of professional sport, the pressures of leadership and the effects of social media on young players.

“You try to be the best you can be and sometimes you can’t, and if you can’t, that’s hard to deal with,” Hooper told media in the past. “I think it’s important, especially for young players, to learn how to deal with that.

“Players are getting better at talking to each other about it,” Hooper said. “It is certainly something that is of the utmost importance, how people feel. There is so much happening, you see so many things constantly bombarding you day in, day out about your job.”

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