“This is a new challenge. I’ve played 15 with the Wallaby shirt for so long, but playing in a tournament of seven and being able to go to the Olympic Games is exciting,” said the 32-year-old Australian. Michael Hooper believes that this change could be “a shock to the system”.
Last Thursday’s announcement represents a big surprise in Australian rugby and sports. Michael made the news in August after being left out of the squad for the 2023 World Cup in France. It is worth remembering that the winger was captain of the Australian team for many years and is considered one of the great figures in world rugby. The decision of Eddie Jones, now former Wallabies coach, was a serious blow to the player who played more than 120 games with the Australian jersey, was captain in 69 games and who felt his participation in the World Cup as a given.
Beyond his experience in sports and his excitement for change, this new process represents a great challenge for Hooper. “A lot of running. The most I’ve ever seen. I’ve trained with these guys. They are hungry and can run forever. It would be an amazing experience”, he acknowledged.
It is estimated that he will officially join the Australian sevens program in January with the aim of making its debut on the stage of the circuit to be held in Perth between January 26 and 28, 2024. Between then and the start of the Games, the rest of the stages of the circuit will be played, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Singapore, including the Final Series in Madrid from May 31 to June 2. If he participates in all of them, Hooper will be well prepared for Paris, where Australia will seek to win its first Olympic medal. Australian rugby only holds the title of Olympic champion thanks to the women who beat New Zealand in the Rio 2016 final.
After Hooper’s controversial omission from the World Cup, which was initially said to be due to a calf injury, Jones, now former Wallabies coach, acknowledged prior to his resignation that eliminating Hooper, Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley was due to the fact that he did not consider them to be “suitable models for the team in the future”.
In response to that, John Manenti, coach of the Sevens team, said: “I totally disagree with those comments and, honestly, I don’t know why they had to be said. Hooper has been a good role model, with a good work ethic and a good training ethic.”
The truth is that Michael Hooper signed a one-year contract with Rugby Australia and is focused on this next challenge. Only time will tell how much rest he has left and how much he can bring from his experience to a group of young people, with different game dynamics and objectives. We’ll have to wait to see him in action on French soil competing for the dream of winning that first Olympic medal for his country, which he has been representing for more than 10 years.