'Cooper's omission will please Warren Gatland'
May 19, 2013
Greg Growden believes Robbie Deans has erred in omitting Quade Cooper © Getty Images
Quade Cooper's omission from the Wallabies squad a "toxic" decision? Not quite, but it is still confounding. The right decision? No. And despite Wallabies coach Robbie Deans stressing at the squad announcement on Sunday that the door was not closed on Cooper, the Reds No.10 will require several sticks of gelignite and a SWAT team to help him prise his way back into the Test squad. There were a lot of ifs and buts expressed at the announcement, but it was patently clear Cooper now is not just on the outer but residing on another planet.
Deans said that James O'Connor was his first-choice No. 10, and it now appears inevitable that the Melbourne Rebels star will be Australia's playmaker for the first Test against the British & Irish Lions. He has also named Berrick Barnes and Christian Lealiifano as No.10 options. So at best Cooper is now rated the No.4 fly-half in the country.
Deans has the escape route of being able to add six players to his training squad on June 11, but again the vibes are not good for Cooper. Deans said the additions most likely would be a prop, a lock, a backrower, a half-back and two midfielders.
Deans hinted strongly enough that Luke Burgess, currently playing for Toulouse in France, is the favourite ahead of Nic White for the back-up No. 9 spot; and that he is waiting to see if Pat McCabe can overcome his knee injury as well as discovering whether Kurtley Beale will again be available. And, yes, if everyone in Australian rugby is happy with Beale's rehabilitation from his alcohol problems, he will be another strong candidate for the No.10 Test spot. So that pushes Cooper further down the totem pole; fullback also doesn't appear an option because Deans is showing interest in playing newcomer Israel Folau there.
Wallabies squad to face British & Irish Lions
Deans said that Cooper would actually appear against the Lions, proof the Reds' match against the tourists on June 8 will be the last chance for the maligned pivot to get back in the good books. But Cooper will require a courageous, near herculean, effort, especially with Deans saying the player had to physically assert himself more in the game. In other words, Deans has serious doubts whether Cooper's defence is good enough to confront a Lions team that is bound to be physical and confrontational.
So unless there is a diabolically long list of injuries over the next few weeks, Cooper will be on the prawn cocktail guest speaking circuit when the Lions series gets serious. And Cooper deserves better than that. He has done some silly things, his outburst about the Wallabies last year was juvenile, and his last Rugby World Cup performance was the ultimate meltdown, but he has been on the improve this season.
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Deans always talks about players providing "a point of difference": Cooper has done that this year, being expressive and unpredictable for the Reds; while his defence is not perfect, it is decidedly better than it was 12 months ago, and he has done more than enough this year to deserve a squad spot.
Let's just say Lions coach Warren Gatland will not be shattered to hear Cooper has missed the first-choice squad. Not even all the carefully directed leaks in the past few days that Cooper was going to miss out softens the impact. As O'Connor has hardly appeared in the Wallabies No. 10 jersey, it is a big call to say he is your "first choice"; and it has taken Deans some time to be convinced he is the pivotal man.
Robbie Deans explains his squad selections%]
Rob Horne is the luckiest to make the Wallabies cut, as he gets in because of McCabe's leg problem; Wycliff Palu's form, meanwhile, has been steady rather than sensational, and he gets in due to lack of No. 8 choices. Saia Faingaa is there because of Tatafu Polota-Nau's broken arm.
George Smith's unavailability due to a serious knee injury enabled the Wallabies selectors to avoid the tough choice of opting between Michael Hooper and Liam Gill as the second openside flanker. Now Deans happily can have both Hooper and Gill. But if one had to be picked, Hooper would have probably made the cut. Smith and Polota-Nau will be sorely missed.
As for the three forwards most likely to be added to the squad, Deans clearly wants to see more from Dan Palmer, Kane Douglas, Hugh Pyle and Hugh McMeniman. All would add something to a reasonable, but hardly intimidating, Wallabies squad.
And, yes, all three uncapped players - Folau, Lealiifano and Ben Mowen - deserve their spot.
An interesting development was that a Test captain hasn't been selected. Maybe, just maybe, they are thinking about Will Genia taking over the reins. Not before time.
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand
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