Who will wear the 10 for the Wallabies?
Australia's Berrick Barnes (C) attacks the The United States defense (EPA/KIM LUDBROOK)
On August 18, either Berrick Barnes or Quade Cooper will steer the Wallabies around ANZ Stadium against the All Blacks in the opening match of The Rugby Championship.
If I was selecting the team, I would go for Barnes over Cooper at 10, however in a perfect world, I would like to see Barnes shift to 12 with Cooper inside him.
Whatever combination Deans chooses, he needs to consider it carefully as it will impact greatly on the rest of the backline.
“[T]here’s potential domino effects on other positions and how we cover them. The only certainties are Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley Cooper,” Deans said a fortnight ago.
It would be a massive gamble to drop Barnes after consecutive man-of-the-match performances. However, as he well as he played throughout the June Test series against Wales, the Wallabies only scored five tries in the three games.
The Wallabies need Cooper at 10 for his superior attacking skill, with Barnes continuing to play a controlled, distributing role at 12. We can’t solely rely on the safety of Barnes against The All Blacks and Springboks; we need it juxtaposed with Cooper’s unpredictability.
In saying that however, Cooper did miss the recent Test series due to lack of match fitness and hasn’t played a lot of rugby in the last 12 months. Despite Cooper’s defence improving dramatically since 2011, I think Barnes’ main advantage over him is his all round game.
If Deans wants Pat McCabe at 12, I would go for Barnes at 10 for this reason. However I’d rather push McCabe to 13 as I don’t see him to be a great distributor in comparison to Barnes.
Another option is for Deans to put Beale at 10, who shone for a lifeless Rebels side this season. However, he is by far and away the best fullback in the country and it would be a mistake to move him.
It will be interesting when James O’Connor comes back as he too could slot into the 10 jumper.
He handled the position with aplomb against Wales following Cooper’s World Cup injury. Despite only playing a handful of games this season, he still managed to squeeze into the top 10 for average metres gained.
When fit, I would slot him straight back into the starting side on the wing. He’s simply too much of a talent to keep on the sideline.
Furthermore, Deans could ease Cooper back into international rugby by giving him an impact role. Cooper could come off the bench at around the 60 minute mark, who, coupled with the injection of Nic White, would undoubtedly spark the backline.
It’s a shame Christian Lealiifano has been ruled out to a season ending ankle injury. For me, he was by far the best Australian five eighth this Super Rugby season.
His ability to take the ball to the line and create multiple options is where he outshines Barnes. He will no doubt be a major contender for a starting spot when he returns.
As much as I think we need Cooper back, I don’t think Deans will opt for him in the first game, as he recently hinted Barnes will stay where he is, “Quade’s coming back and he’s going to need to play some rugby. He hasn’t played any rugby really over the last year.”
If he stays with Barnes, it’s quite understandable as his partnership with Genia has blossomed. Genia has taken a more dominant role, with Barnes successfully taking a backseat.
I don’t think I need to comment on Cooper’s World Cup campaign, where Barnes stunningly received a standing ovation when he substituted Cooper against the Boks.
I think Cooper’s confidence took a massive beating as a result. Yet Cooper has been a more controlled player since, exemplified in his six games this season where he didn’t overplay his hand, having greater impact with his fewer touches.
One needs to question when or if he will ever be able to convert his Super Rugby form on to the international stage. When he does, he will be the one of the best players in the world.