Captain Michael Hooper is set to return to training with his Wallabies teammates next week ahead of a potential return to Australia’s five-Test tour of Europe in October and November.
The 121 Test breakaway missed the Rugby Championship after dropping out of the Wallabies squad to face Argentina in Mendoza in early August. Explaining that he was not in the “right frame of mind” to lead the Wallabies, Hooper returned home and has been on leave ever since.
The 30-year-old has remained in frequent dialogue with Wallabies coach Dave Rennie and general manager Chris Webb, and is keen to return to the training ground in preparation for a return for the spring tour.
The squad for the tour, in which the Wallabies will face Scotland on October 30 and then France, Italy, Ireland and Wales, will be named in mid-October.
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Hooper trained on his own, but the next planned step will be to join other Sydney-based Wallabies at one of the pre-tour training centers held across the states. Discussions over whether Hooper will go on tour will continue after he returns to team practice.
Rennie and Rugby Australia have made it clear they are ready to give Hooper the time needed to make a comeback.
The Wallabies have been well served at No.7 in the Rugby Championship, with Fraser McReight and Pete Samu playing well in Hooper’s absence. Samu, in particular, had a breakout season and was among the best of the Wallabies when promoted to openside in the Bledisloe Cup series.
The Wallabies are confident Bernard Foley will be allowed to join the tour as one of the Wallabies’ Giteau Law picks after positive talks with his Japanese club Kubota.
Foley is looking forward to touring after returning from three years in the Wallabies desert to play in two Tests against New Zealand, and hopes to push for World Cup selection next year.
Other Japan-based players, including Marika Koroibete, will not be selected for the spring tour, as part of a peace deal with clubs and the Wallabies, but Foley’s case is different given that he didn’t play as much.
However, it is likely that Foley will only be available for the first four tests.
The management of the Wallabies should also name the second French rower Will Skelton in the team of the circuit for the second consecutive year. Locks are thin on the pitch, with Rory Arnold one of the Japan-based players not considered, and Darcy Swain unavailable for the first two Tests due to suspension.
The Black Ferns play their first Rugby World Cup on home soil in October and November.
Rennie will wait to name his spring tour squad until the end of Australia A’s three-game tour of Japan, which begins with a game against a Japan XV in Tokyo on Saturday. Matches in Fukuoka and Osaka follow.
Meanwhile, French referee Mathieu Raynal has claimed Foley ‘forced’ him into making the controversial decision to lose time at the end of the Bledisloe Cup clash in Melbourne.
Speaking to French media after winning the Top 14 Referee of the Year award, Raynal said he was sticking to the call.
“I told a player five times to kick the ball to touch it. I couldn’t help it,” Raynal said. “It’s not me who decided to make the decision, it’s the player who forced me to do it.
“I take full responsibility for what I did, 100%. I had a necessary reason for making the decision, even if it was a strong reason that made people talk.
“I try to do what is right. It is at the heart of my work.
Raynal said he had a “calm” conversation with Rennie after the match.
The Wallabies have sought clarification from World Rugby and Rennie said last week they ‘agreed’ with the position of Australia, who argued that Raynal’s communication in English to Foley was not clear.
Raynal said he deleted social media and news apps from his phone to avoid controversy. He instead spent his time playing Candy Crush.