Battle for Wallabies No. 10 – Cooper, O’Connor or Beale?

One of the biggest decisions facing the Australian team prior to the upcoming tour of the Lions is who to hand the Number 10 shirt to, with three different players all having genuine claims to being the premier player in this position. They all have their weaknesses though too, meaning that whatever decision is made, it is likely to be a contentious one, with pundits, commentators and fans alike ready to jump on any decision should it turn out to be the incorrect one.

With 2 months to go until the first test versus the British and Irish Lions we take a look at the three main contenders for this position – Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor.

Quade Cooper

Cooper has done it all before, having been the first choice Australian fly-half until injury forced him out of the team in 2011. Since then he has returned to the team and suffered more injury woe – something that has allowed Beale to further assert his claim for the position. Cooper without doubt has talent – probably more natural ability than any of the other contenders – but his form has not returned to the scintillating heights he exhibited before the 2011 World Cup.

It also has to be remembered that Cooper, to use an understatement, has not always seen eye-to-eye with Australia coach Robbie Deans, which has already seen him left out of the initial ‘logistics camp’. No-one can forget his claims that the atmosphere in the Australian camp was toxic, and this willingness to speak out will make Deans worry that he will upset the team and cause unity to become compromised.

The answer to the question surrounding Cooper’s inclusion lies in whether Cooper can play so well that Deans is forced to include him – his recent form with the Queensland Reds currently shows that this might be the case. His almost telepathic connection with Will Genia, his compatriot at Queensland and the Australian captain, will certainly boost his claims for a starting place against the Lions. Doubters only have to look at their performance together in Hamilton last week for proof of this. Great partnerships are hard to find in rugby, so can Deans bring himself to turn his back on this one?

Kurtley Beale

There is no doubting that Beale is one of the biggest talents in the Australian game, with his nomination for the IRB international Player of the Year in 2010 announcing him to the world after a highly successful year. Disciplinary problems have dogged his career since then though, and after playing in a huge loss to the Sharks for the Melbourne Rebels recently, Beale found himself in an ugly altercation with his own teammates – something that led to him being suspended by the ARU and facing an uncertain future in the game. Alcohol is cited as the reason for this indiscretion – as well as others in the chequered career of Beale – and Aussie chiefs are concerned that he simply can’t keep his off-field behaviour under control.

Beale’s fall from grace is a sad one, as without his indiscretions he would possibly be one of the biggest assets in the Australian squad. Just looking back at his early years as the captain of the Australian Schoolboys team it is clear he is a sportsman who has yet live up to his full potential at the highest level.

With the fact that a broken hand is currently keeping Beale out of the game as well, his chances of playing in the Lions tour seem to be diminishing. It is also the case that he will only have limited chances to prove his form and fitness before the tour, thanks to the suspension and injury. This means he could be, at best, Australia’s number three choice for the jersey. He will be attending counselling though to try to remedy his off-field issues, and this willingness to change could help him reassert himself in the Wallabies line-up, although this is unlikely to happen by the summer.

James O’Connor

The third and final musketeer, O’Connor is looking like the prime candidate for the Number 10 shirt currently, thanks to both his personal attributes and the situations that have developed around him. His age is certainly something that works both for him, as at the tender age of 22 he has youth on his side, while also being able to point to 37 caps as proof of significant international experience.

O’Connor also hasn’t had any controversy surrounding him, unlike the other two candidates, which will calm the nerves of Deans. Injuries are a concern however, with O’Connor spending much of the 2012 season on the sidelines. His form prior to this though, especially during the Northern Hemisphere tour of 2011, is still fondly remembered by management and fans alike. The fact that O’Connor is part of the influential Wallabies Test-team leadership group – along with Genia, Horwill, McCabe and Pocock – could also work in his favour.

O’Connor is, essentially, the safe choice for the Australian team. With the recent controversy surrounding rugby – and sport in general – in Australia, a calming influence like O’Connor could be just what the team needs. He would, therefore, be a lot of people’s choice to take the position, but when Deans does come to make the call it is imperative he makes the right decision if the Wallabies are to repeat their success of the 2001 tour.

By Ilan Hurwitz

Ilan runs the Australian web site Football Jerseys Online where he provides rugby fans in Australia with Jerseys from the most popular teams including the British & Irish Lions & the Wallabies.

30 thoughts on “Battle for Wallabies No. 10 – Cooper, O’Connor or Beale?

  1. It can be easily argued that Christian Lealiifano is the form contender for the 10 jersey. He will be in the matchday squad and has a better chance than Kurtley Beale at the very least

    1. It’s true that he’s been on form, but do you think he’ll start ahead of Cooper or O’Connor for a Lions tour? As far as I’m aware he’s not been capped yet, and it would be a pretty big shout to throw him in for such a one-off tour. Better to give him game time in the Rugby Championship I would have thought.

      1. If Cooper isn’t to be trusted than he’s close. I think O’Connor works best as a 12, so it’s not ahead of O’Connor really.
        He was going to be capped last year before his season ending injury, and from Australian media, they seem to have more focus on the Rugby Championship than the Lions.

    1. Barnes has been injured all season – he broke his thumb, or finger, or something about 15 mins into his comeback a couple of weeks ago and is now out for another chunk of time. I think it’s touch and go as to whether he’ll make it back in time for the tour.

  2. Agree with the above on Lealiifano; very good player – but inexperienced and a gamble.

    Cooper would be my shout, he is world class and his partnership with Genia is incredible. That would put O’Conner at 15 for me, where he is equally as effective. If Beale can sort himself out, which I doubt, it may put him at 15 and O’Conner to 14 or 13.

  3. Cooper is playing extremely well at present, as is O’Connor and Lealiifano.

    The Aussie teams are currently leading the Super Rugby table, and have won 6 of 7 games agains the NZ teams. Ominous…

    1. Agreed. I think the wallabies of 2013 are going to be a completely different proposition from those of 2012. The masses of injuries they had last season made them look a far weaker team.

      1. And now that they are all back, the depth created makes them look a lot stronger!

        Hugely different animal, like you said nick

  4. O’connor does not get enough gametime at 10 for the rebels. He played fly half for them against the southern kings yet failed to get his backline firing. O’connor is simply no distibutor but he is dangerous with ball in hand.He seems a long term 12 for me, but he is best used on the wing at the moment.

    As much as I dislike Cooper for his behaviour during the rugby championship, He is arguably the form fly-half in australia, along with maybe the Brumbies fly-half Matt Toomua. Deans will be wary of starting inexperienced players in this for him career-defining tour, and might select Cooper as he was magnificent in the final tri nations and if he can replicate that form he will be a real handful. His current form is quite good and his play seems to have matured so I expect him to make the cut. His reaction on the exclusion from the “logistics squad” was very mature as well and if he plays like he played against the chiefs, he will be a force to be reckoned with.

    Finally Beale would be lucky to make the squad at the moment. He is very inconsistent and has a lot to prove. If he gets some gametime, he will face an uphill battle. He was horrible in the rugby championship when he started on fullback, although he was pretty good in the autumn tour. But with all the quality backs at Australia’s disposal, he’ll have to fight for his spot.

    I think the wallabies backline will look something like this:

    1. I would be surprised if McCabe wasn’t there somewhere. I think we might see O’Conner in the center with McCabe, and AAC on the wing maybe. Or even just straight swap McCabe with Lealliifano – who I would expect to make the bench.

      Also, Mogg is an interesting one. Obviously the form 15 and exceptionally talented – but if fit I would think Beale would come in here. He is proved in the past that he is a class act, it is his off the field problems that may stop him. They may even more AAC to 15 is Beale isn’t back.

      1. Jesse Mogg has been insane for the Brumbies – he’s managed to make them look like a different team when playing – from fullback. He’s one rookie that they do need to take a punt on.

      2. Deans being Deans might pick Mccabe at 12, but even though he is a defensive monster, he just doesn’t offer enough on attack and effectively nullifies the effect of the rest of the backs. He is basically the Brad Barrit of the southern hemisphere.

        For me personally, I’d hope Leallifano or Tapuai start before him. They are no slouches defensively either, offer more in attack and in the case of CL an extra goalkicking option.

        Either way, even though McCabe is in the leadership group, i’d rather not pick him as the wallabies 12.

        1. Yeh I see your point; I guess I was going for more what I think will happen over what I would rather see happen. I think McCabe will start, but I would rather see either Lealiifano or O’Conner there.

    2. That backline is insane. Do you think anyone from the lions would get in the Aussie team? Halfpenny that’s about it.

      1. I reckon that North, Halfpenny, Tuilagi possibly Tommy Bowe (when fit and firing) would all get in or at least bench

        what’s Leallifano’s defence like

      2. luckily for the lions, the backline has always been the traditional strength of the wallabies, so it was to be expected that this would be their most impressive weapon.

        Halfpenny would make it in, and possibly a center like BOD in his prime, but they are very well endowed in this area!

  5. O’Connor is however playing for the lowly Rebels and still manages to look good. In the Dec 2011 game in Wales he was imperious at 10.

    ATM their form backline:


    Plus McCabe, Barnes, Horne etc knocking around

        1. thats a total crank article site by the way… the next one is about neil jenkins turning down the 10 shirt for this years lions…

  6. the wallabies are blessed with talent at the moment.
    1- Robinson, Daly
    2- S. Faingaa, Moore, Polotau-Nau
    3- Alexander, Slipper, Kepu
    4- Pyle, Simmons, Douglas
    5- Jones, Horwill, Timani
    6- Higgenbothom, Mowen, Dennis, Quirk, Brown
    7- Smith, Gill, Hooper, McCutcheon, Hodgson – and Pocock out injured
    8- Palu, Schatz, Auelua, McCalman

    9- Genia, Phibbs, White, McKibben, B. Lucas, Frisby
    10- Cooper, O’Connor, Toomua, Volavola
    11- Ioane, Mitchell, Turner, Vuna, Tomane, Rathbone, Betham
    12- Barnes, Tapuai, Lealiifano, McCabe
    13- Ashley-Cooper, A. Faingaa, Horne
    14- Cummins, Speight, Shipperly, Davies, Feauai-Sautia
    15- Beale, Mogg, Folau, Kingi, Harris

    the other thing about the australians is that so many of their players (backs especially) are such gifted players that they can play in multiple positions and remain effective. so they could pick any combination of these guys.

    sure we could do the same thing for the lions, and overall it may look more impressive, because it is 4 nations providing the players, but i dont think that there can be much debate at how much talent is available to the aussies.

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