When Michael Hooper stepped down less than 48 hours before the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship kicked off in Argentina, it shocked the world.
From Will Carling to Karmichael Hunt, there was an outpouring of support around the world as Hooper’s “mindset” turned out to be wrong and he missed the test and flew home.
However, for those closer to the situation, it was not so surprising.
SUMMARY: Stunning bonus-point win for the Wallabies as Quade shuts out this year
Hooper has been pushed to the breaking point for some time, with few in his position having had time in the saddle despite the emergence of talented players such as Fraser McReight.
Instead, with valuable wins and coaching living by results, the Wallabies – and Super Rugby franchises, perhaps with the exception of the Brumbies and more recently the Waratahs – fielded their best players for fear of failure.
A talismanic leader, Hooper has not only held the Cavaliers together on and off the field for years, but has put his head in places few have dared to go.
The second youngest ever Wallabies captain, Hooper was the youngest ever player to play 100 Tests.
Last year he broke George Gregan’s record of 59 for the Tests he drove last year and is just 18 minutes off the 1999 World Cup winner’s national record of 139.
All this at the age of just 30, with the last three Wallabies coaches handing him the captaincy after he was first mentored by another, Robbie Deans, in 2012.
At some point, age, or at least just the minutes he spent on the field, will catch up with him.
Of Hooper’s 121 Tests, he started in 115 of them and went the full distance in 95 of them. He has missed just 11 Tests since making his debut against Scotland off the bench in Newcastle, including the 41-26 win over Michael Cheika’s Argentina at the weekend.
By comparison, Richie McCaw, who started in 141 of 148 Tests, missed 37 Tests during his decorated career.
Interestingly, in the four years before his retirement after the 2015 World Cup final, McCaw started 44 of 45 Tests during that period, but only played the full 80 minutes in 33 of those Tests.
But as age caught up with him, his resilience and the weight of leading the All Blacks for so many years, he missed nine Tests during that golden period.
He was also given a sabbatical by New Zealand Rugby in late 2012 and returned in mid-2013. He wasn’t playing, rather he was cooling his heels.
In May, Hooper laughed off suggestions he could push for a home World Cup in 2027, saying he was more likely to have a “beer” in the stands at that point.
But it’s not just the domestic World Cup that feels like an eternity to Hooper, it’s the 2025 British and Irish Lions series and, of course, next year’s World Cup.
After years of bouncing back on Sunday, it’s believed the heavy knocks are starting to take their toll.
Hooper recently played in Brisbane against England despite being down with flu during the week.
There was an element of concern about whether he had received another blow to the head when he beat an early shot after being parried by Ellis Genge.
A week later, as the Wallabies’ injury toll climbed into double figures, he supported the series decision despite a crooked back.
Earlier in the year, Hooper leveled a high tackle on the Crusaders’ substitute striker that drew a red card and spent two weeks on the sidelines.
Privately, the Waratahs and the Australian officials were dirty as the culprit, Hamish Dalzell, was penalized moments earlier for a high shot that earned no further punishment.
The concussion is something Hooper is particularly aware of.
It’s also clear the Wallabies are strapped in on the training ground.
Numerous sources have also raised questions about the strength and conditioning methods used.
The questions arose after a number of players were injured in training in recent months.
There is a view that the current squad needs to be whipped into shape because they are not up to Test match standards.
Hooper, who returned to Australia on Sunday, is expected to rest and spend time with his family.
No time frame has been set for when No. 7 will play next.
Sources believe he will miss the home Tests against the Springboks.
Fortunately, the Wallabies have found they can play without Hooper and succeed.
But they may also have learned that humans are not machines.
#Revealed #pushed #Michael #Hooper #breaking #point #forced #Test #withdrawal