The Wallabies are expected to receive a major boost ahead of their five-Test Spring Tour, with the country’s most capped captain Michael Hooper expected to make himself available to play.
An official decision is likely to be made late this week, but it is believed Hooper is excited by the prospect of returning on the Spring Tour with a view of pushing for selection in next year’s World Cup.
It is understood he does not want to continue serving as captain, having held the role since mid-2017 after becoming the second youngest skipper as a 22-year-old in 2014. He has led the Wallabies on 68 occasions, nine more than George Gregan’s previous record.
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Hooper does not believe he has a mortgage on the No.7 jersey, and instead wants to earn his stripes in the squad following the encouraging performances by Pete Samu and Fraser McReight which have shown the Wallabies have depth in the role.
The Wallabies are in no rush to name their squad for the end of year Tests, with their next match against Scotland on October 31.
Others like Bernard Foley, Will Skelton and even Irae Simone are likely to feature, with Dave Rennie confirming on Saturday night Japanese-based winger Marika Koroibete to be given the tour off after a mammoth year.
But the likely return of Hooper will be welcomed by all, with his leadership and consistency missed.
On Saturday, former Wallabies star Drew Mitchell said the “gap” between the side’s best and worst was too great.
Hooper is one of the few players whose performances rarely wavers, with consistency and courage the hallmarks of the forward’s career.
Should he indeed be named, his return, even if he does not line-up against Scotland, would give the squad an injection of positivity after their Bledisloe Cup capitulation across the ditch, where they were “shaded in all areas” by the All Blacks, according to Rennie.
Hooper, 30, earned widespread praise when he withdrew from The Rugby Championship ahead of the tournament opener in Argentina on August 7, citing a “mindset” issue.
Rennie applauded the decision, telling reporters it was “brave” and “courageous”.
Former England captain Will Carling described Hooper as a “brave and honest man”.
“Very few people can understand how incredible it is to capt(ain) your country, but also how draining.
“This honesty reflects a hugely impressive leader.
“To those that say it is weak – impressive leaders stay the course.
“What is impressive/honest is that he is saying he would not do (the) job as well as he could/should. Many would just carry on, lesser performance – but still there.
“He has said that is not good enough for him.”
The 121-Test stalwart has kept himself in great shape since leaving Argentina.
Just as he has throughout his entire career, Hooper has kept a low profile since.
Meanwhile, an Australian A squad featuring Tom Banks and Suliasi Vunivalu left Sydney on Monday for Japan where they will play three unofficial Tests against a Japanese XV.
The tour represents a big one for a number of players, with the World Cup less than a year away and positions up for grabs on the end of year tour following a number of injuries to key players.
It is believed Jock Campbell will play fullback for Saturday’s opener in Tokyo, while Tane Edmed has the inside running at fly-half.