Cooper shadow remains, while Beale’s stocks rise
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Australia's Kurtley Beale, right, makes a catch as South Africa's captain Jean de Villiers, left, defends during their Rugby Championship at the Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa. (AP Photo / Themba Hadebe)
Quade Cooper’s performance on The Rugby Club really threw me last week. Really threw me. My mutterings on Twitter at the time and since probably look like I was giving up on him, and to a degree I probably was.
In all honesty, it’s been a battle in the days since to properly look at the whole situation from all objective angles.
I’m quite sure Cooper is right about many of the things he’s spoken out about over the last week.
But at the same time, I find it difficult to reconcile that he’d so easily turn his back on the “yellow” jersey that thousands of rugby players in Australia would give anything to wear for just a minute.
It’s a simple conclusion to jump to – like Fox Sports commentator Phil Kearns did merely seconds after full time in Pretoria – that Cooper’s antics “obviously affected the Wallabies” coming into Sunday morning’s 31-8 thumping.
I’m not sure it’s obvious at all, and taking this line overlooks how dominant South Africa were, and how abjectly horrendous the Wallabies were at times.
The truth is we may never know how much of an impact Cooper’s airing of grievances had on the team and/or the individuals, certainly not in the short term, anyway.
There may well be players who support him, but who might find it difficult to speak up while trying to prepare for a Test match, and indeed, while ever available for selection. It may well be a case that we won’t know even half of the full story until there have been changes at coaching, management, and national body level. It could take years.
Certainly, the farcical way in which the Wallabies had to finish the game with fourteen players, no hooker, and uncontested scrums, having lost count of the number of subs used, gives credence to some of Cooper’s amateur hour claims. I questioned the tactic of spelling Benn Robinson before halftime and returning him late in the game only a few weeks ago, and that move using up two substitutions definitely needs to be reviewed, particularly in games with high injury tolls.
On that, the shocking spate of injuries in this game cannot be used as an excuse either. The Springboks were already dominating the tackle and breakdown well before the Wallabies made their first substitution, forced, tactical, or otherwise.
Of course, what sort of fit numbers are available to train for the Wallabies’ historic first Rugby Championship match in Argentina remains to be seen. The Wallabies’ former World Cup winning winger manager, and former All Black fullback coach might be required for the opposed sessions.
A Wallabies official told me some time ago that The Roar colleague, and Fairfax columnist, Paul Cully, has quickly established himself as one of the very best analysts in the Australian rugby media, and it’s certainly difficult to disagree with that.
Those comments came flooding back to me when it took the best part of an hour for the Wallabies to properly contest a South African lineout, as Paul had suggested last week was an opportunity to be explored. However, by that stage, the Springboks were already starting to win the Australian throw, and were generally giving Dave Dennis a hell of a time every time he went up. And it did seem to be every time, too; Dennis often appeared a lone hand at lineout time, where both Kane Douglas and Stand-in captain Nathan Sharpe had unhappy times to match their disappointing games overall.
Kurtley Beale provided perhaps the one sliver of positivity for the Wallabies, and I thought he handled his debut outing in the cursed no.10 jersey well. I’d actually suggest that with the possible exception of Michael Hooper, there weren’t too many better performed Wallabies.
Beale learned the mistake of his opening minute grubber kick to no-one, and after that his kicking game was generally pretty good, both long and short. That’s not to say his game was flawless though; far from it. Beale also fell victim to the Australian penchant for tracking east-west rather than north-south at times, and like many of his teammates over the course of the eighty minutes, he took more than one bad option.
Beale did at least show a preference to run rather than kick, though, and when young South African flyhalf Johan Goosen did the same as he often did, there were some great periods of rugby in this game.
Beale also found out the hard way that Cooper’s gripes about wanting to always play attacking rugby just isn’t possible when the forward pack is going backwards. The South African backrow was just too big and too physical at the breakdown, and all too many times Wallabies found themselves going into the contest on their own and rapidly coughing up possession.
Certainly, Beale’s stocks as a flyhalf have risen despite the result. Whether Cooper wants out or not doesn’t really concern me anymore, and frankly, I’d take Beale at 10 right now if given the choice. Beale looks to have shed a few kilos, too, and appears to be well on the way to returning to full fitness.
Of course, the Wallabies now face a major challenge taking on Los Pumas in Rosario, at the very gentlemanly time of mid-Sunday morning AEST.
Just like Test cricket in Perth, I think I could get very used to regular Test rugby in Argentina real quick.
There is just no way Argentina were 40 points worse than the All Blacks, yet that’s the losing margin they walked away from La Plata with.
The Pumas’ up-tempo game could really cause some trouble for the battered Wallaby forwards, and their fleet-footed backs will be counting on forcing more bad option-taking from the Australian backs.
Beale has the vision and creativity in his game to cater for the broken Argentinean line, but it won’t be much use without front-foot ball. The forwards simply must aim up.
Australia can’t play much worse than they did in Pretoria.
This team is said to have abundant character, and that will surely be tested in this coming week.
A win in Rosario could go a long way to appease apathetic fans and help the team emerge from a disgruntled colleague’s shadow. Australian rugby needs a win for the same reasons.
And on a personal note, I really want column no.201 for The Roar next week to be positive. This has been a horrible way to bring up a milestone.
Brett McKay is a former non-tackling scrumhalf and not-quite-1st Grade middle order stalwart. A rugby and cricket expert for The Roar since July 2009 (having joined in Sept 2008), Brett has written for Inside Rugby and Cricket Australia, and is also PLAY Canberra's rugby correspondent. He tweets from @BMcSport
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