Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has hailed the bravery of a “struggling” Michael Hooper after the Australian captain’s decision to fly home early from his side’s tour of Argentina for personal reasons.
Hooper had been named to skipper the Wallabies in this weekend’s Rugby Championship Test against the Pumas in Mendoza.
However, he withdrew from the match, and the two-Test tour, telling his teammates he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to lead and represent the Wallabies.
The 121-Test veteran was replaced in the Wallabies side by Queensland Reds flanker Fraser McReight, with prop James Slipper named captain in Hooper’s absence.
“While this decision did not come easily I know it is the right one for me and the team at this point in time,” 30-year-old Hooper said.
“My whole career I’ve looked to put the team first, and I don’t feel I am able to fulfil my responsibilities at the moment in my current mindset.”
Rennie said Hooper’s problems weren’t “evident” in his training, tour contribution and leadership.
“But clearly he’s been struggling a bit and masking that pretty well,” Rennie said.
“Obviously he’s been able to suppress things over the past handful of weeks and so we certainly weren’t aware of anything but he’s such a professional and he was able to get on and do the job.
“He addressed the team, which took an enormous amount of courage, to let them know that he’s not OK and that he felt it was best for himself and for the team that he gets home.”
Rennie said Hooper had called team doctor Sharron Flahive on Friday (Australian time) after which he became aware of the serious nature of the 121-Test veteran’s problems.
“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,” Rennie said.
“He’s shown true courage by acknowledging where he is at and acting on it.
“It took a lot of courage for him to address the group, so a huge amount of respect from everyone and a respect that we want to get him home and get as much support around him as we can.”
Rennie said no timeline had been put on Hooper’s return.
Rugby Australia CEO Andy Marinos said Hooper was 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,” 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.”