By far the biggest omission from the Wallaby squad to take on the British and Irish Lions is Reds flyhalf and mercurial talisman, Quade Cooper. When Cooper is on, there is almost no stopping him. He posses a combination of running and kicking skills that cannot be matched by any current player. He beats defenders with ease and creates farm-size tracts of space for the runners outside of him. He can bamboozle the most stubborn of defenses and often leaves quality internationals sprawled in his wake as glides toward the sticks.
But then there is the other side of the coin. The dark side. The erratic side. The party animal side. With any maverick throughout history, you have to take the good with the bad, and when Cooper is off, be it on the field or off, he can bring all those around him down to depths unfathomable. Cooper’s off-field antics saw him dropped from Robbie Deans’s squad, after describing the environment in the Australian national side as “toxic”. When egos clash in sport everyone tends to suffer, as those used to winning often refuse to take a backward step – even, or maybe especially, when they are in the wrong.
A British & Irish Lions tour is bigger than Deans and Cooper; it’s a national event that happens every 12 years for the host country, and the decision not to pick Cooper, could tip the scales in favour of the touring Europeans. Successful rugby teams are often built on good combinations. Front row combinations for scrumming, hooker – lock combinations in the lineouts, center combinations for defense, back three combinations for kick receiving and counter attacking, and then possibly the most important combination, 9 – 10. Here Australia have one of the most most talented and settled combinations in world rugby.
Both Cooper and Will Genia play for the Reds in Super Rugby, and were instrumental in the Reds’ only Super Rugby title win 2 years ago. They are a settled combination, and with Will Genia having no real competition for his number 9 jersey, he would probably prefer to play with Cooper, than with any other flyhalf and with Genia playing a leadership role in the Wallabies setup, one would expect him to have pushed for Cooper’s inclusion.
It is well known that Robbie Deans is rather stubborn and has had a lot of success with teams he has chosen and coached. He trusts himself and his structures to right the Australian ship, but in his 5 years in charge has not managed to turn them into the world-beaters he promised. His reluctance to choose Cooper must be for reasons other than rugby, as his only Tri-Nations trophy came with the Reds man at the helm. The only other possibility is that the feeling within the team is that Cooper is a disruption – but then we have to remember that Australia also have to deal with the even more walk-about Kurtley Beale, who had to be disciplined by his Super Rugby franchise after he got into a brawl with teammates – one of which was his captain.
So is Quade Cooper that important to Wallaby success against a pretty strong British & Irish Lions side? This writer thinks he is. With a spate of injuries, the Aussies won’t cope with the depth of the Lions’ talent if they refuse to pick some of their best players – they just don’t have that luxury. Last time they beat the Lions they had the settled provincial duo of Gregan and Larkham running the game, and one thinks they may need that type of combo again.