Saying only Cooper can beat the All Blacks is laughable
Suspended Queensland Reds player Quade Cooper carries the water. AAP Image/Dan Peled
Cool heads are wonderfully difficult to find in Bledisloe Cup week, and long may it continue. Considered judgments are abandoned in favour of bold proclamations.
Coaches are either clowns or Einsteins. Player A is either a potential matchwinner or a disgrace to his nation.
It is great pre-match theatre and why it remains one of sport’s enduring contests. It does not need Americanisation into some sort of Australasian Super Bowl-lite, as one witless idea suggested this week.
Amid all this noise another argument entered the fray – the Wallabies cannot beat the All Blacks without Quade Cooper.
It is, like so much else this week, excitable nonsense.
Take a peek at the statistics and you might, at first, be persuaded that something is in it. Cooper has played five times against the All Blacks, with a winning percentage of 40 percent. Not bad, considering the opposition, and certainly better than the 20 percent return of Berrick Barnes in his appearances against the old foe.
But be careful going down that path, because it can lead you to unexpected places. Wallabies captain David Pocock has a success rate of just 16.66 per cent against Richie McCaw and company from 12 contests.
Will Genia’s figure is only marginally higher – 18.18 per cent from 11 games. Yet if there are two players who might come into the ‘indispensability’ category, if that even exists, it is those two.
The sticky truth is – and it is ironic given how he polarises opinion so violently – is that Cooper, at the moment, is a grey area in terms of selection. Too grey. Robbie Deans simply hasn’t seen enough from Cooper to convince him he’s ready, even for a bench role.
It is a tough decision – and an unpopular one for which he’ll be hung out to dry if they lose – but that what he is paid for.
Counter-arguments can be put that Cooper’s gifts could have at least been put to use in the last 20 minutes against a tiring opposition. But since when did this description apply All Blacks?
It is the period of the game when they are often accelerating.
Deans’ decision, which he described yesterday as “pretty straightforward”, would have been made easier because Cooper is effectively in the second stage of his career – and that’s in its infancy.
The minute Cooper started defending at No.10 against the Highlanders at Suncorp Stadium in round 17 this year, he drew a line under the World Cup, the criticism and that bad knee injury. He announced himself as a player who wanted to leave a legacy in the game, not just a highlights reel of crossfield kicks behind his own posts.
It is astonishing – a tribute to his natural ability but also an indictment of the coaching he received in his developing years – that he got to a World Cup semi-final without being given, or being required to master, one of the basic tools of the game – tackling.
He has now grabbed that bull by the horns and it is admirable, but it is not going to happen overnight.
There is also a statement in Deans’ selection, consistent with some telling remarks he has made this week.
The first was Deans’ comment that some players struggled with the mental side of the World Cup, and being in a country that was obsessed with rugby.
“To spend that amount of time in New Zealand, some of the players found it quite unforgiving…Argentina is not unlike that,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
And in the first of a two-part interview with The Roar, Deans said: “We’ve had ample ‘X-factor’. It doesn’t cut it against the All Blacks in particular.”
Whether these comments relate directly to Cooper are irrelevant because they apply to the whole group. He wants a harder collective edge from his players, mentally and physically, and he will reward those who provide it.
There were signs of those qualities in the close wins against Wales and the coach wants to nurture them.
He wants a 22 that even the obviously gifted must fight to get into, and that is a good thing.
Paul Cully is a freelance journalist who was born in New Zealand, raised in Northern Ireland, but spent most of his working life in Australia. He is a former Sun-Herald sports editor, rugby tragic, and current Roar and RugbyHeaven contributor.
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