SYDNEY, Australia, Aug 27 – Wallabies captain Michael Hooper is relishing the chance to play under former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and alongside Kieran Read after inking a short-term deal with Japan’s Toyota Verblitz.
The openside flanker will spend the first of half of next season with the Top League team, whose squad boasts former New Zealand skipper Reid and experienced Springbok Willie le Roux.
World Cup-winning coach Hansen is at the helm as director of rugby.
“To have the exposure to a new environment that has a World Cup-winning coach in Steve Hansen and with Kieran Read as a fellow player, amongst some top players, that’s a really exciting opportunity for me, for my rugby world,” Hooper told The Australian Thursday.
The 28-year-old’s move will see him miss most of the NSW Waratahs’ 2021 Super Rugby season after being released for six months as part of a pay deal earlier this year with Rugby Australia.
The agreement gave several top players the option of a short-term release from their contracts after they took pay cuts in the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hooper, who has played his entire career in Australia, will still be able to return to complete the season for the ‘Tahs, and be available for all Wallabies’ Tests — his next one will be his 100th appearance.
He told the newspaper his stint with Toyota Verblitz will start in January and was timed to best suit his Wallabies commitments leading up to the 2023 World Cup.
“Pretty much this is the best time for me in my contract period to do this, being the first year into a four-year World Cup cycle this works out the best in terms of my development and timing-wise, into that next block of years of rugby,” he said.
Other players able to take advantage of the six-month sabbatical in Europe or Japan reportedly include Melbourne Rebels captain Dane Haylett-Petty and fellow Wallaby Matt Toomua.
But Rebels coach Dave Wessels said Thursday he was hopeful his two most senior players would not take up the opportunity.
“I’ve had chats with both of them about that,” he told reporters.
“Both of them are pretty big parts of our team and both of them are pretty committed to staying at this stage.”