Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper will take up a six-month sabbatical deal to play rugby in Japan, leaving the NSW Waratahs without their biggest star for most of the next Super Rugby competition.
Rugby Australia and the Waratahs confirmed on Wednesday night that Hooper – who has played 99 Tests – would be released for the first six months of 2021.
His deal is a feature of the COVID-19 interim player pay agreement between Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) and RA in April, applying to a specified number of veteran Test players.
Melbourne’s Matt Toomua and Dane Haylett-Petty are understood to have been offered the same deal.
Hooper will miss most of the 2021 Super Rugby campaign with an opportunity to return to complete the season for the Waratahs before the Wallabies’ Test calendar.
“This is a great opportunity for me to learn in a new rugby environment and develop a different perspective on the game,” Hooper said in a statement.
“I’m really excited in the direction of rugby in Australia both at a Super Rugby level and at the Wallabies too under Dave (Rennie).
“The Super Rugby AU competition this year has unearthed some really good young talent and they are all keeping me on my toes.”
RA interim boss Rob Clarke said they were supportive of Hooper’s plans.
“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,” Clarke said.
“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.”
Hooper is set to join Japanese Top League team Toyota Verblitz, where he will link up with former Waratahs assistant coach Simon Cron and former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.