Australian vice-captain Michael Hooper says he’s shocked and gutted by a one-week World Cup ban which left his teammates and coaching staff silently cheering.
Hooper admitted he had a “very fair hearing” in London on Tuesday, which lasted for two hours in which footage was dissected of his aggressive clear out of England fullback Mike Brown from a ruck just before halftime in the Wallabies’ 33-13 win.
He will miss Saturday’s final pool game against Wales at Twickenham, which will decide who tops Pool A and earns the easier draw through the competition’s knock-out stages.
He’d been cited by independent citing commissioner Steve Hinds who found Hooper had charged “into a ruck or maul without the use of arms or grasping the player”.
The result was of great relief for the Wallabies, who had privately feared the judiciary would come down hard on the talented flanker with a ban that had the potential to end his tournament.
But it’s hard for a player to be pleased about missing a Test match.
While the Wallabies never seriously considered fighting the charge – and Hooper pleaded guilty – he did admit for a fleeting moment the thought crossed his mind.
“Surely it always crosses everyone’s mind, doesn’t it? That you’re innocent and you can hopefully play the next week,” he said.
“Being fresh out of the meeting, I think we had a fair trial.
“One week is not ideal – I’m not raving about it. But we can move on and I’m glad it’s all over and done.”
The base level for the charge normally carries a two-week ban, but Hooper was given a lighter sentence as the judiciary took into account his contrition, good on and off-field record and good behaviour during the hearing.
It frees him up to play in Australia’s quarter-final clash – with the opponent to be determined by their result against Wales.
“Obviously I’m gutted I won’t be able to be in the mix for selection,” he said.
“It really hurts. You always want to be in these sort of games – the big ones.”
Hooper will be replaced in the starting lineup by either Ben McCalman or Sean McMahon – with the other to be picked on the bench.
He hoped the ban would be used as an example for teammates to take more care in those scenarios, although defence coach Nathan Grey was adamant that team policy would remain to go 100 per cent into every contest.
“It’s a tough part of the game,” Hooper siad.
“Small margins of errors and you get it wrong and you’re in a situation that I’m in or worse.
“It’s a good example for guys to keep working on that technique during training to not be in the situation I’m in now.”