Left out of Eddie Jones’ World Cup campaign in France, Michael Hooper is poised to get the Paris send-off he craves.
The Wallabies great is on the cusp of signing a new deal with Rugby Australia, which will see him sign a deal to join the national sevens program ahead of next year’s Olympics in Paris.
A source close to the situation told The Roar that the deal was all agreed, with the paperwork to be done.
The 31-year-old has long expressed a desire to play at the Olympics.
Except, the Wallabies’ most-capped captain thought and hoped it would be after playing at this month’s World Cup.
Named alongside James Slipper as Wallabies co-captain ahead of The Rugby Championship, a calf injury saw him scratched ahead of their second match of the year against Argentina.
But despite being a chance to recover in time for their World Cup opener against Georgia on September 9, Eddie Jones opted to leave the openside flanker out.
Hooper is said to be keeping himself in shape if Jones comes knocking, but it seems apparent that the Wallabies coach has had a drastic strategic shift in selection philosophy after also leaving out experienced playmakers Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley too.
While Hooper has packed plenty in his career already, the long-time Wallabies captain could still play on for years to come if he has the desire.
All year the flanker, who signed a huge five-year, $1million-a-year deal ahead of the 2019 season, has kept his options open.
Not knowing what he would want to do following the World Cup, the 2014 Super Rugby winner and three times John Eales Medallist, who claimed his eighth Matthew Burke Cup in August, knocked back several offers from overseas earlier this year to keep his options open.
All the while he has kept open the possibility of wanting to push for Olympics selection.
“There’s an Olympics,” Hooper said in late May, before cheekily adding, “there’s rugby league. I’m joking. I’m an open book.
“I have not got anything lined up for next year. I have been in a contract for a lot of time it seems like.
“Since the end of 2009, I’ve been signed in Australia with that quick dip off to Japan there but aside from that, it’s all been in Australia.
“I don’t know where the next thing is going to look like. It’s a nice position to be in to be open to all aspects. That’s playing or maybe not playing, having time off, whatever. I’m a completely open book or start the next chapter.
“I’m actually really excited by the fact that I don’t know what I am going to do.
“I’m an open book, whether that’s 15s, whatever, or I’ll just hang it up.”
One person who has always welcomed Hooper’s flutter in wanting to play at the Olympics is Australia’s men’s sevens coach John Manenti.
“He’s got all the skill sets, he’s got the experience, obviously he hasn’t played for a long time, but if he’s prepared to put himself up for selection through some lead-in tournaments, he’d be of great interest to us,” Manenti told The Roar in late May.
Asked what players like Hooper can provide, Manenti said their value extended beyond the tournament play.
“The lessons aren’t just in the event, the lessons are ongoing and the value has lasting effects,” he said.
Hooper’s massive engine, quality at the breakdown, strong skill set and work rate, as well as his experience at what it takes to play at the top, is something that the sevens program would benefit from hugely.
Nor is he the only Wallaby the sevens program is looking at, with wingers Mark Nawaqanitawase and Australia A flyer Corey Toole also being looked at closely.
Junior Wallabies star Darby Lancaster, who recently signed with the Melbourne Rebels, is another outside back the sevens program hopes they could call upon.
Despite finishing fifth in this year’s World Series, the Junior Wallabies automatically qualified for next year’s Olympics after host nation France finished in the top four.
French captain Antoine Dupont, who is carrying the hopes of a nation into this year’s World Cup, is expected to make himself available for the tournament.
Should he do so, he will become the latest XV’s star to play at the Olympics, following in the footsteps of Sonny Bill Williams, Semi Radradra and Cheslin Colbe.
Quade Cooper and Nick Cummins attempted to feature in the 2016 campaign, but missed selection.