Is Quade Cooper the symptom or the disease?
Much has been written about Quade Cooper’s performances of late, stemming from a clearly poor game on the weekend but stretching back to the start of the World Cup and probably the start of the international season.
Here he was, a man who mesmerised during the Super Rugby season.
A man for all occasions who could play with audacious courage (kicking across behind his own goal line), or switch to cool authority the next (beating the Stormers in SA).
Sure his tackling wasn’t great, but here he was; at last a man to ignite the potentially potent Wallaby backline.
However, things haven’t gone quite that way. With each game he seems to be getting less and less effective.
It isn’t for lack of effort, he still tries to make things happen, but they don’t seem to work.
In fact, like quicksand, the harder he tries to extract himself the deeper into the funk he seems to sink.
In my experience, talent doesn’t just disappear. So if you take that stand point we then have to look and ask why? Is it the media beat-up that is ‘QC Public enemy no.1’? I don’t think so because he has never seemed like one to get too bothered about what people think of him.
Is the pressure of RWC getting too him? Again I don’t think so as pressure didn’t bother him during Super Rugby.
Is it the platform delivered by the forwards? I think that has something to do with it. Anyone playing the game knows that without winning the battle up front your backs are going to struggle. You only need to look at the last Tri Nations game between Australia and New Zealand.
Maybe for the first time in his NZ career Dan Carter, the world’s best 10 was playing behind a losing pack (at least for 40 minutes).
In that game Carter certainly struggled and in my view Cooper was the better 10 that night. That said even then Carter was much more assured than Cooper was against the Springboks. So what else is there?
In my view the largest contributor is Wallaby selection. For the Reds, Cooper has a player at 12 who offered much more variety in their play.
By playing Pat McCabe at 12, the only option he provides in attack is good hard straight running.
Professional players and teams are not going to have much concern about this. A simple one on one tackle will stop it everytime.
This gives the opposition the luxury of applying extra pressure on Cooper. By rushing him and outside McCabe they cut down his stepping time and the ability for the long pass, his other strength.
His only option then is to pass to McCabe who will do what he does which is run a very simple line that is easily stopped.
This is also why the inside passes to Digby Ioane and co. have not had the same potentcy as before. They have become the most likely option and therefore the defense focus on it knowing no real questions will be asked elsewhere.
Now before Mrs McCabe reads this I must declare my appreciation for Pat and what he does. He gets given a job to shutdown the opposition in defense with big hits and run as hard as possible to the tryline when he has the ball, come what may.
He does this with no thought of his own preservation. It is not Pat who is the problem, it is the role they want a 12 to play that concerns me.
If they play Barnes at 12 they will lose some of the dominance in those tackles. Barnes doesn’t miss many though and he always goes low bring the man down immediately, thus bringing David ‘The Thing’ Pocock into play.
On attack you get a calming influence, a good field and goal kicker, a good distributor and swerver more than an out an out stepper.
It also gives Cooper the chance to step back, allowing Barnes to take 1st receiver duties on occasion where he can then survey the line and find the chink in the armour.
Lastly having a player at 12 who can pass on occasion will mean getting the ball to runners like Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale and Ioane on the outside, running at defenses one on one rather than trying to get through the crowd on the inside ball.
Do this and the Wallaby backline could be unlocked.
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