Folau’s time away a personal choice, says Hooper
When it was revealed Wallabies star Israel Folau would be taking a break from the game to freshen up with a World Cup two years down the track, there were mixed reactions.
Sure, there is merit and precedent to giving Folau the last four Tests of 2017 off. The All Blacks – think Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Ben Smith – have in modern times been big believers in giving their best players time away from the game.
But some n sports fans cannot get their head around Folau being paid by Rugby to sit out important games on the spring tour while being spotted at the races with fiancee Maria Tutaia.
Folau has hardly missed a game for the NSW Waratahs and Wallabies since his high-profile code swap from the AFL to rugby.
However, one name has kept popping up in discussions about Folau and his sabbatical.
Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has barely missed a minute of rugby since 2012. Combining Super Rugby and Test matches, the forward has played 172 matches in 298 weeks.
It is a bruising schedule and there are many out there who believe Hooper would be more entitled to time out of the game than Folau.
For a number of different reasons, Hooper says he hasn’t thought about taking time off for the moment but has confessed he might be open to the idea down the track.
“Maybe when I get to his [Folau’s] age I’ll be thinking the same thing,” Hooper told Fairfax Media. “I haven’t thought about it currently. I’ve just been really enjoying the week-to-week ride.
“Every player is different. Some guys want to keep playing year round and we’ve seen that with people going to Japan. Some guys want … time off. It’s down to the individual at the end of the day and what works for them. Israel also has played a ton of other footy in different codes and he’s a bit older than I am.
“It’s also very taxing on someone like Israel who takes a lot of that stuff on. He does an incredible job not to show that and how positive he is around the group. I’m sure he’ll be raring to get on the field and starting pre-season in January with the Tahs next year.”
Folau was arguably in career-best form, having rediscovered the ability to find the try line after a couple of lean years at Test level.
His time away from the game will end his chance to break the world record for the most tries in a calendar year, but Hooper has revealed Folau was second-guessing his decision.
“He made it quite known to everyone when he was about to make the decision at the back end of the Rugby Championship, he was like: ‘I don’t know if want to take the time off’,” Hooper said. “It was because he was playing great rugby and enjoyed being around the team.
“It’s about a long run. He’s not getting any younger. It’s a look down the track to see how he can stay at his most consistent, his most deadly.”
Speaking from Cardiff in the lead-up to ‘s showdown with Wales on Saturday night, Hooper returns to the northern hemisphere in a different role to last year.
With Stephen Moore relinquishing the captaincy duties, Hooper is the man moulding the Wallabies into the team he wants ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
He only got a taste of national captaincy in 2014 when Moore was ruled out for the best part of the year with injury and on reflection says he has come a long way.
“I genuinely am learning through each day,” Hooper said. “You’re encountering new things every day.
“Not any disrespect to the people previously – I think I learnt a lot from that period. You grow as a person, you grow as a rugby player through those times.
“I’d be silly not to talk to people and read things. I’ve never stopped learning in this role.”
Asked what had been the most satisfying part of a year that has had its fair share of ups and downs, Hooper replied: “The willingness to improve in training. Yeah, we’ve had some good results, we’ve started to become more consistent, but our training days are becoming much more enjoyable. We’re getting improvements out of them, getting different guys growing as leaders and that’s something that is really exciting for me going forward”.