Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Rugby Union have confirmed that Michael Hooper will take up an overseas playing opportunity for the first six months of 2021.
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.
The 99-Test Wallaby will miss most of the 2021 Super Rugby campaign with an opportunity to return to complete the season for the NSW Waratahs before the Wallabies 2021 Test calendar.
Hooper made his Super Rugby debut in 2010 for the Brumbies and has since gone on to play 150 Super Rugby games.
Qantas Wallabies flanker Michael Hooper said: “This is a great opportunity for me to learn in a new Rugby environment and develop a different perspective on the game.
“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,” Hooper said.
Rugby Australia’s Interim Chief Executive Rob Clarke said: “We’re incredibly supportive of Michael making this move in the first half of 2021.
“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,” Clarke said.
New South Wales Rugby Union Chief Executive Paul Doorn said: “This is a great opportunity for Michael but will also provide an invaluable opportunity for the next generation of Waratahs to put their hand up, both on and off the field.
“Michael has played such an important on-field role for so long, and has also been a leader off the field as well, so now is the chance for the next generation to really step up and fill that void.
“Our young talent has enjoyed some great exposure in this season of Super Rugby AU and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has some competition for that number seven jersey when he returns home,” Doorn said.
RUPA Chief Executive, Justin Harrison said: “What we’re seeing is an innovative approach to player contracting and this is a pragmatic solution for the game in Australia both at a club and national level.
“Michael is a humble, hardworking, honest Australian who has navigated through the blowtorch of scrutiny with diplomacy and unwavering loyalty. When sporting environments talk about culture, everything we speak about is reflected in him.
“He’s joining a strong high-performance environment which will help his development as a player but also as a person as he continues to explore a life that is not solely measured on a Rugby field,” Harrison said.