Michael Hooper has joined Australia’s rugby sevens squad in a bid to cap his glittering career with an Olympic gold medal.
The 32-year-old, who was controversially overlooked by former coach Eddie Jones for the Wallabies’ ill-fated World Cup bid, has signed up to play in the newly-revamped global sevens series in the build-up to the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
The confirmation of Hooper’s bid came as news emerged that French ace Antoine Dupont is set to ditch the 2024 Six Nations to make his own bid to represent the Olympic hosts at the tournament.
Dupont was the face of France’s ill-fated Rugby World Cup campaign. He suffered a broken cheekbone in the pool stages that curtailed his time, although he was back in action for the narrow quarterfinal loss.
Hooper, a four-time winner of the John Eales Medal as the best Wallaby player of the year and a 125-time capped flanker , will join the sevens program full-time in January, and hopes to play his first tournament at the inaugural Perth SVNS event over the Australia Day long weekend.
A Wallabies’ captain on a record 69 occasions, the announcement almost certainly spells the end of Hooper’s national ambitions in the 15-a-side game.
But he says he is looking forward hugely to his new challenge in what he called a “massively exciting year with the Olympics on the horizon”.
“The transition is something I have thought a lot about and I’m extremely motivated by the challenge of playing sevens and trying to earn my way into this team,” Hooper said in a Rugby Australia statement.
“I’ve started making a few changes to my training in preparation and can’t wait to get started in January.
“I’d like to thank John Manenti (the Australian men’s sevens coach) and Scott Bowen (the national performance manager for sevens) for the opportunity to join the program.”
The Australian men’s team have already qualified for the Olympics which will be held at the Stade de France in Paris in July.
Manenti was delighted by the signing, saying: “Michael is an outstanding rugby player and a great leader, so we’re thrilled to have him join our program.
“We know he’s got a strong skill set for Sevens and a big engine and we’re looking forward to helping him transition quickly to the format.
“He is a player with big-game experience and to have someone like Michael in our set-up can be a point of difference for us next year.”
The Australian team start their SVNS series campaign on 2-3 December in Dubai, before visiting Cape Town, Perth, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Singapore and Madrid on the road to Paris.
Hooper was most recently seen in action for the Eddie Jones-coached Barbarians in the defeat against Wales in Cardiff, where he looked sharp in what was only an invitation affair.