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Hooper OUT of Argentine series amid ‘mindset’ battle, Rennie says skipper ‘clearly struggled’

Captain Michael Hooper has withdrawn from the Wallabies Rugby Championship test against Argentina 24 hours before kick-off and is returning to Australia after saying he was not in the right ‘frame of mind’ “to lead or represent the country.

The tireless flanker had been named to lead the side in their 122nd Test on Sunday morning (AEST), but his immediate playing future is in doubt.

“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.”

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said there were no signs of angst from Hooper during the week.

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“Nothing that 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 he was covering it up pretty well,” 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 going home.

“It was an easy decision to let him go home where he will have a lot of support around him.”

Rennie added: “It’s not uncommon in life, is it? It’s a cross section of society and often men will say that everyone buggers and suffers in silence.

“It took a lot of courage for him to address the group, so huge respect for everyone.”

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Hooper enlisted the help of Wallabies team doctor Sharron Flahive, who set the wheels in motion for his comeback.

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

Rennie said McReight was ready for the game after recently playing in the Australia A Pacific Nations Cup.

“He’s had three 80-minute performances, so conditioning-wise it’s not a problem.

“They use the same structures as us and he’s been in our group in the past so he’ll fit in perfectly.”

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, who have a World Cup in France next year, return to Australia for Rugby League Tests against South Africa and New Zealand from this month.

Rennie said Hooper, 30, had given no indication of his playing future and they had no timetable for his return.

Since his debut in 2012, Hooper has appeared in 118 of 126 Australian Tests, with 115 starts.

In May, Hooper gave an indication of the tension in international rugby when he was interviewed following Australia’s 2027 World Cup hosting rights.

“I will be in the stands with a beer in hand. Absolutely,” he said when asked if he could play in the tournament.

“How nice it will be to be a part of rugby and experience it on the other side of the fence.

“Hopefully there’s a (number) seven that’s pushing me well at this point.”

He added: “You never say never, but I have this 18 month period and Tuesdays are getting harder and harder and it’s like how much you’re willing to take for the rewards, that is. say we can do what you like.”

“It would be great to be a part of it, but I’ve been so lucky in my career,” he added.

“I’m playing every game I can get and as long as it takes, happy days.”

After the England series ended, the media wondered if now was the right time to ease Hooper’s burden and appoint a new captain.

Harry Jones of the Roar noted that Hooper had played with more freedom for the Waratahs this season when he was relieved of his captaincy.

“Changing captains is certainly a momentous thing,” Jones wrote. “But the example of Tahs shows that Hooper is first and foremost a team player. He could also be freer to play more on the ball. As a test skipper, participating in the thief or ping contest can be inconvenient. Then there is the added burden of leadership.

Wallabies assistant Scott Wisemantel said he didn’t hear the chatter.

“What does Michael bring?” Look, he’s smart. Tactically, on the pitch and in communication with the referees, he has developed extremely well, especially in the last three years. He is a world class player. You look at his position, how other teams rate him, he’s world class,” Wismantel said.

To his teammates, Hooper is “adored. He is a strong leader. He’s a great listener. And then it compresses and decomposes all the information. Either he rephrases it, or he comes up with an opinion and a strategy, and either we disagree or we agree, and then we go in one direction and off we go. He’s brilliant at that.

Slipper has similar levels of experience and stressed the importance of the team getting off to a good start in Mendoza.

“It’s an important part of the game, the beginning, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter who you play, playing catch-up rugby against anyone will take you away from how you want to play the game,” Slipper said.

“For us, it’s just about nailing our details and it’s one thing to create opportunities and quite another to seize them. To be honest, this week we talked a lot about our details and our execution. S There’s a place where you want to start is here, the Argentinian team and the fans are very passionate and you can’t let it build.

(With AAP)

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