The enigmatic Quade Cooper is still Australia’s best fly-half

As the next round of Super Rugby matches begin on Friday, it will be a moment of truth for Wallaby coach Robbie Deans. On June 5th he has to prepare a team to play Scotland and four days later the Wallabies take on the Six Nations champions – Wales. This would be a tough task for any side – Scotland will be no pushovers, and the memories of Samoa’s success last year still resonate with Wallaby supporters. It will be a real test of the Wallabies’ strength in depth. Avoiding injuries will be Deans’ main hope, but his most fervent prayers will be offered over Quade Cooper.

After the confirmation of O’Connor’s unavailability Deans has a problem over the selection of fly-half. So far Cooper has managed a careful 40 minutes for the Reds after his seven month injury lay-off. Because of the unfortunate groin injury to Cooper’s understudy, Ben Lucas; Cooper will have to front up against the Brumbies on a cold night in Canberra. The best Deans can hope for is that Cooper plays for an hour and stays whole.

Without doubt, Cooper is the enigmatic heartbeat of an exciting Wallaby back division. Since being capped at 20 in 2008, he has become almost indispensable. When he is on song he is one of the most accomplished rugby players in the world. He plays on the edge, dominating games with his daring running, audacious distribution and complete self-belief. This enables the Wallabies to play a high tempo game, counter attack with panache and rack up the points very quickly.

The issue with Cooper is that he can drift in and out of games. Occasionally he intimates that he has fallen out of love with rugby union and will join the NRL. Given his less than powerful tackling that might not be as easy as he might think. Apparently the ARU are not so sure, and have decided that Cooper is their main asset and have rewarded him with a massive contract. There is no doubt that Cooper is box office and that he puts bums on seats, yet to play him in the June series entails huge risks. Cooper might simply be not yet up to the intensity and pace of international rugby – although Horwill the skipper thinks so.

Even when fit he is prone to lapses of concentration – unforced errors, petulance, and a certain fragility in heavy traffic. His dismal performance against Ireland at 2011 RWC was more typical of his performances last season. Both Deans and McKenzie, his coach at the Reds tried to hide him as the loose player behind the defensive line but international teams soon worked this out and mercilessly exposed Cooper.

There can be no doubt that the Wallabies are a better side with a fit and motivated Quade Cooper on the field. There are precious few serious alternatives available; Berrick Barnes is going backwards, and might not even make the cut, and that leaves as the only other possibility, Kurtley Beale of the Rebels. He has been a revelation since taking over from the “departed” Cipriani and revitalised the attacking potency of his team. An outstanding full back, he has revelled in the opportunity to dictate play and appears to be a threat every time he has the ball in his hands. Whether Deans would be happy with such a maverick approach from his outside–half is doubtful.

The Brumbies against the Reds is always a highly charged game and Deans will be watching the game through his fingers this weekend wincing at every tackle and hit. Cooper as always, is confident that he is ready to play. Even after a 7 month lay-off and only 40 minutes game time, he is the best outside-half available to Australia.

Wales will be watching with interest – they are not coming to Australia to make up the numbers and if Cooper plays, he will be a target. This is just the type of situation Cooper thrives in, his chance to put the detractors in their places. Whatever Deans decides to do, it will be one of his most difficult decisions. Gets it wrong, and the Wallabies season could be over very quickly. Of course he could always give David Campese a call?

by Gareth Hughes

9 thoughts on “The enigmatic Quade Cooper is still Australia’s best fly-half

  1. Couple of points I strongly disagree with:

    “His dismal performance against Ireland at 2011 RWC was more typical of his performances last season.”

    If you are talking about the RWC, then yes his performances were sub-standard, but the Quade Cooper who won both the Super Rugby title with the Reds and the Tri-Nations with the Wallabies was anything but dismal. In fact, he was outstanding in both tournaments.

    I also think right now that Wallabies should start with Beale at 10. He’s been the best performer in that role over the last month – Barnes was regressed into some kicking rabbit hole where he can’t find the way out – whilst Cooper still needs to get match fit. The Wallabies have enough options in the back three – Ioane, Davies, Speight, Mogg, Tomane etc. – to let Beale run the show.

  2. Never been convinced by Cooper in international matches. If things aren’t going his way, it seems that he will either try to force it or that he just disappears

    Reminds me very much of Carlos Spencer – brilliant but mercurial and capable of moments of madness that will lose a game

    Although he’s out of the autumn matches (which is a massive shame), what about James O’Connor in the longer term – the Aussies have played him at fly half before haven’t they?

    I think if Cooper plays, the Welsh will feel slightly more relieved than if they are facing Beale. They’ll just send their big runners at him all match long

  3. I find it quite strange that the article spends alot of the time describing Cooper as maverick and then states, regarding beale ‘Whether Deans would be happy with such a maverick approach from his outside–half is doubtful’

    Surely if Deans if happy to have Cooper’s unpredictability at 10 then he would be fine with Beale. I think Beale should play at 10 as he has been brilliant for the rebels since moving there and cooper can be no way near match fit

  4. Agree with both Ben and Paolo.

    At the world cup last year, the Wallaby backline missed a steadying hand outside Quade. Barnes on the bench was a big error from Deans, he should have been starting at 12. We had a No 10 with flair, but our centre pairing were one dimensional. We were also shown up in the forward pack whenever Pocock was not on the field. Yes, Quade had a disappointing World Cup. But the bigger issues were selection and our on field strategy.

    Anyhoo – James O’Connor played at No 10 during the Autumn internationals and absolutely schooled Cipriani in the barbarians match. His pace, hands and footwork are pretty impressive. It’s a big shame he won’t be playing against Wales and Scotland. He’d be first choice at the moment, but for his injury.

    Cooper does not have a walk up start to the Wallabies, even if he has a blinder against the Brumbies. Beale is much more likely to start, with Cooper on the bench.

  5. Crappy post that would have completely different contents if Australia beat the AB’s.
    But oh, you’re English! so actually it could only be that QC plays badly in internationals because Ireland beat Australia and should really have won by more – try disalloed for nothing. Cooper got the stuffing knocked out of him, plain and simple. Great player, but no match for an inform Ireland at that time:

      1. Half their first choice frontline was missing against Wales, as well as Beale being injured. They won that game with a second team practically. Excuses, excuses. Noone does excuses like the English..

        1. I’m Australian!

          I was just having a dig, because I can see how frustrated you are that the Aus v Ireland pool match was the last time you fellas played well. Ireland did deserve to win that match, which, let’s be honest, is a rarity these days.

          Quite like your club teams though.

    1. I never usually comment on any anti-English rantings because, well, it’s sometimes hard to defend the ridiculously one-eyed nature of a lot of England supporters who feel we “deserve” to beat everyone and don’t accept that other nations have actually been a lot better than us for quite a few years now.

      However this comment is equally ridiculous! Nothing about this article has a pro-English, anti-Irish slant to it. You, hoodpass, must struggle to balance with that MASSIVE chip on your shoulder.

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