Quade Cooper is the obvious choice to start at flyhalf against the Springboks, writes Oliver Keohane. The 21 year-old Noah Lolesio is not yet the answer.
James O’Connor has been injured and Lolesio, decent against a second-string France, was poor in all three losing Tests against the All Blacks.
Cue: The veteran Cooper.
It’s been an interesting year for Quade Cooper, who was recalled to the Wallabies squad this year after last representing them in 2017. The controversy coupled with the call up was that just a few weeks earlier, Cooper (born and raised in New Zealand) was denied Australian citizenship. Cooper took to Twitter to voice his disbelief and frustration at not being eligible, despite serving Australia’s Rugby Union for nearly a decade, yet he still welcomed a recall to the international side.
— Quade Cooper (@QuadeCooper) July 13, 2021
At 33-years old, and still in fantastic physical condition, Quade Cooper the rugby player is still of great value to any side he is selected in. It is being proven over and over that old enough is good enough, and that an obsession with an unconditional backing of youth is perhaps short-sited. Think no further than 37-year old Springbok flyhalf Morne Steyn kicking South Africa to victory over the British & Irish Lions earlier this year, 12 years after he first conquered them in the same style.
While Cooper’s international comeback has been expected, it has failed to materialise so far in an international season that has seen the Wallabies subjected to three All Black beatings. All Black legend, and now pundit, Sonny Bill Williams, who is also a close friend of Cooper’s, expressed his confusion at the refusal to include Cooper in the match-day squads so far.
“The non-selection that baffled me before the game was the non-selection of Quade Cooper,” Williams said following the All Blacks 38-21 win over Australia on Sunday.
“I know that it might be biased coming from my lips, because I’m close to him but just from a rugby point of view, what he can add.
“Brother Reece, he’s Mr Fix-It, he’s a great player but I think in terms of unlocking this great All Blacks defence, Quade is your man.
And Quade Cooper could very well be the man to unlock an apparently airtight Springbok defence. He is, at least, the obvious option within the Wallabies pool to be tasked with doing so. Of his 70 Test caps, 14 have come against the Springboks, and he has been on the winning side nine times. When you (Australia) have a player who has played the Springboks that many times, won more than he has lost and is willing to offer up his services again, it would be a silly oversight to not select him.
Despite the experience; the calm and clarity that a 70-cap veteran comforts a side with, there is an argument to be made for Cooper’s inclusion from a purely stylistic point of view.
Cooper is a flyhalf with the stepping and running abilities of an outside back, and to have those capabilities in a first receiver creates havoc for an organised defence. Richie Mo’unga is of a similar ilk for the All Blacks, and the world has been privy to Cheslin Kolbe’s close quarter abilities being the deciding moments at club and international level. There is always space in a side – actually there is always a need – for a side-stepper.
It has been a while since the world has seen Quade Cooper on exhibition, and perhaps a reminder is needed of his unique abilities. On an international stage Cooper has embarrassed the best of defender with his swerve, with Cory Jane and Leigh Halfpenny two names that immediately spring to mind. Playing for the Super Rugby winning Reds of 2011, Cooper was also sensational on the domestic circuit.
If you follow Cooper on social media you will have witnessed the consistency that has characterised his physical training, regardless of where he has been playing in the world for the last five years, and any argument of too old should be squashed as soon as it emerges.
There is every reason to believe he can still cope at the highest level, and there is every reason given the Wallabies latest run to trust him with turning their fortunes around and unlocking what is, despite recent results, a very talented backline. Australia has not lost to the Springboks at home since 2013, and if they have any intentions of maintaining that record, Dave Rennie has to reintroduce Quade Cooper to the gold jersey.
If you have forgotten just how unique Cooper’s skillset is, here’s a reminder.