Wallabies: Michael Hooper opens up on mental health break from rugby

David Skippers
Michael Hooper Wallabies v England 2022 - Alamy.jpg

Wallabies back-row Michael Hooper has spoken for the first time about the issues which led to his dramatic withdrawal from his team’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina earlier this year.

Hooper withdrew from that fixture in Mendoza less than 48 hours before kick off and revealed that it was not easy asking for help during his time away from rugby to deal with mental health problems.

“As a younger man, I viewed asking for help as, I guess, a bit of a weakness. You want to feel like you have it all worked out and I certainly didn’t,” he told AAP ahead of Australia‘s opening end-of-year Test against Scotland on Saturday.

Staunch support

The 30-year-old, who has captained his country on a record 64 occasions in 121 Test appearances, had special praise for his wife, Kate, for her staunch support during a difficult time when he was trying to deal with the pressures of being a new father and his life as a professional rugby player.

“I’ve been playing the game for a long time, had some great changes in my life happen this year and there were a lot of things running through my head showing up in Argentina, and Argentina wasn’t the place where I needed to sort these things out,” he said.

“I wanted to be around family. I wanted to be in a place where I could put the time in to those things that I needed to put in.

“That doesn’t mean that I’m sitting here now completely cured. It’s not like that at all. At that point in time, I needed to be somewhere else. That wasn’t Argentina.

“I know that’s quite vague but, yeah, I’m still getting my head around it. It’s not that long ago.”

Hooper admitted that informing Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie that he did not want to play was one of the toughest conversations he’s had during his 10-year Test career.

“I have high expectations of myself and pulling out of a game is certainly right up there with something I couldn’t see myself doing. Of course it was hard,” he said.

“It came around suddenly… the beautiful thing about rugby and the hard thing about all sport is there’s always the next goal so that you can move on and you can move on quick.

“It was probably exacerbated being overseas away from home but certainly where I’m at, in my career and things like that, you start to look at post-rugby. I’ve got a family now.

“So there’s a lot (more) elements now than being a 22-year-old and pretty much being concerned about yourself and I think that played into it.”

Hooper said he is grateful to be living in an era where mental health is a topic of discussion which is spoken about more openly.

“I’ll look back on this period and going through it, it’s a part of life. It’s part of being human, all this stuff, a great time in my life,” he said.

Although he is back with the Wallabies, Hooper will not be captaining the side on their European tour but said he is fully behind new skipper James Slipper and that regaining the captaincy is not something which concerns him.

He admitted that playing in next year’s Rugby World Cup in France is enticing, although he’s not taking that for granted as he is simply trying to enjoy playing rugby again.

Relishing return

“I’m excited. I’m excited to be back – at this stage. I’m also realistic knowing that last time I was in here it didn’t quite work out,” said the star openside flanker.

“So I’m back putting myself in this position because I want to be here. I’ve got some great support around me and I’m realistic that there’s going to be some really good days, and days that the realities of travel and rugby and stuff are difficult.

“But I think that’s part of the whole journey. Part of doing what we do is that whole rollercoaster.”

READ MORE: Wallabies: George Gregan praises ‘courageous’ Michael Hooper for stepping back from the game