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Wallabies captain Hooper to move to Japanese Top League next year

The 28-year-old should still be available to feature for the national team in 2021.

Hooper has signed a six-month deal in Japan.
Hooper has signed a six-month deal in Japan.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

RUGBY AUSTRALIA HAVE confirmed that Wallabies captain Michael Hooper will move to the Japanese Top League next year in a six-month release from his contract in Australia.

The stint in Japan will help Hooper to make up some of the pay cut he, along with all other Australian players, recently took due to the financial pressures caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

It means the Waratahs will be without the openside flanker for the first half of 2021 as he instead links up with Toyota Verblitz, where Steve Hansen is the director of rugby and who already have the ex-All Blacks captain Kieran Read and Japan’s Kazuki Himeno in their back row stocks.

99-times capped Wallaby Hooper will miss the bulk of the 2021 Super Rugby campaign but is expected to be back in Australia in plenty of time to feature for Dave Rennie’s national team.

Rugby Australia say that the “provision of a six-month release was a feature of the interim player pay deal agreed to between the Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) and Rugby Australia in April of this year for a specified number of current players and followed the COVID-19 health and financial crisis.”

Hooper will now join big names like Read, Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith, Aaron Cruden, Franco Mostert, Alex Goode, George Kruis, Ryan Crotty, and Samu Kerevi in making the move to Japan’s ever-improving Top League.

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Losing Hooper for next year will undoubtedly be a big blow for Rob Penney’s young Waratahs squad, but Rugby Australia indicated their happiness for the back row to make a short-term move.

“We’re incredibly supportive of Michael making this move in the first half of 2021,” said interim CEO Rob Clarke.

“It’s a prudent decision, especially for someone who has been a devoted servant to the domestic game here in Australia for over 10 years now.

“While he will head overseas for the first six months of next year, Michael has made it abundantly clear how committed he is to Australian Rugby until at least the Rugby World Cup in 2023.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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