Race for Wallabies number 10 jersey heating up

Cam Avery Roar Guru

By Cam Avery, Cam Avery is a Roar Guru

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    Wallaby Kurtley Beale speaks with teammate James O'Connor and coach Robbie Deans.

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    All the talk this week has been on David Pocock’s injury, which is a colossal blow for the Wallabies.

    As professional coaches have to do in this day and age, Robbie Deans will not be afforded time to think of the ‘what ifs’ and will be moving forward with a contingency plan that would have already been put in place some time ago given the high-risk position of a number seven in rugby.

    If anything, Deans won’t have to look too far to see the blueprint to overcoming the loss of a key player for such a big series.

    Just a little under two years ago, New Zealand was facing a national crisis when a few weeks into the 2011 Rugby World Cup which they were hosting on home soil, when they lost their golden boy Dan Carter to a horror training-ground injury.

    The All Blacks went on to lose both their two next choice number 10s and it was the discarded and often ridiculed Stephen Donald who famously stepped up to kick the penalty which ultimately clinched the All Blacks the tournament.

    Speaking of number tens, I believe that the Wallabies chances of winning the forthcoming series hinge largely on who they select in this pivotal jersey.

    There are three contenders, each of them well known to us. The contenders are the ‘three amigos’, the players who seem to have found themselves in the papers more often over the past few years for off-field indiscretions rather than on-field exploits.

    The three players are of course Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor.

    Cooper was the established pivot who has run himself into injury, form and Twitter problems during the past few years. Beale is the incumbent in the position, and O’Connor is the upstart.

    Let’s start with Quade Cooper. Casting your mind back to the 2011 Super Rugby season where Cooper could do no wrong and was at his mesmerising best, masterminding the Reds to their maiden title and playing a key role in their famous victory over the Crusaders in the final.

    At the time he was being hailed as the second best fly-half in the world and about to knock Carter off the perch at the top of that list.

    As we know now, the good times were not going to last. We all know what happened 2011 in the Rugby World Cup, where Cooper who had by that stage become New Zealand’s Public Enemy Number One, stuttered through the tournament.

    He had an absolute shocker in the semi-final before being put out of his misery in the third versus fourth playoff with a serious knee injury.

    Cooper came back in 2012 only to be struck down with injury once again before then suffering some sort of brain explosion and tweeting then voicing his dislike of the ‘toxic’ environment in the Wallabies camp.

    Beale, the precocious talent that he is, was arguably the best fullback in the world in 2011 before spluttering through 2012 and then stepping into Cooper’s shoes and making the ten jersey his own on the 2012 Spring Tour.

    Finally O’Connor, ruled out for most of the 2012 season is perhaps the most talented of the lot.

    A utility who can play virtually anywhere in the backline, O’Connor started on the wing or at fullback and has gradually moved his way in closer to the jersey he has openly admitted that he wants more than any other, the number ten.

    So, who will Deans pick when he comes to choose his side for the opening test? Who will wear the jersey made famous by illustrious names such as Ella, Lynagh and Larkham?

    Deans will look closely at all the options. He will know that Lions series are the biggest, most intense matches outside of Rugby World Cup games.

    One need only look at the 2005 series in New Zealand, where the All Blacks played some of the most sublime rugby ever seen, or the 2009 series which was one of the most physically brutal, tough encounters witnessed in the modern era.

    Deans will realise that big matches need big temperament players.

    In my opinion, this will rule Cooper out. Too often has Cooper been found wanting on the big occasion.

    In 2011, people will only recall his abject performances in the Rugby World Cup, highlighted by his showing in the Eden Park semi-final.

    People forget how poor Cooper was at the same ground in the preceding Tri Nations game against the All Blacks, where he repeatedly made bad decision after bad decision and put his team under all sorts of problems at the wrong end of the field.

    As Graham Henry mentioned in his recent book, whenever the All Blacks came up against the Wallabies, the All Blacks would target Cooper as the weak link.

    There is no doubt the Lions would look to replicate this strategy if they find Cooper starting in the fly-half jersey.

    On top of this, Deans is not a man to let bygones be bygones. His time as assistant coach of the All Blacks was blighted by strong decisions over players he thought weren’t right for the team, the famous names of Cullen and Merhtens are just a couple who spring to mind.

    Deans will not have forgotten about Cooper’s indiscretions in criticising the Wallabies and is unlikely to want a player of his disruptive nature anywhere near the team.

    O’Connor is the type of x-factor player the Wallabies need. He is the kind of player who can create something out of nothing and has an all-round game the Wallabies will rely heavily on come the test series.

    His ability to run, distribute and kick will put him in strong consideration for the ten jersey but it is these traits which I believe Deans will employ at fullback rather than fly half.

    This leaves Beale. The incumbent did enough on the end of year tour last year to have convinced Deans that he is the man for the job.

    His experience, where he slightly edges O’Connor, and game management which is a tad more developed than O’Connor’s will mean that he is the answer and he will thus be charged with directing his side around the paddock trying to emulate some of those famous Wallaby names of days gone by.

    Of course, I could have this all wrong, perhaps Cooper will prove his critics wrong, perhaps Deans isn’t as stubborn as some make him out to be, only time will tell.

    One thing is certain, whoever is selected in that number ten jersey will be pivotal to whether the Wallabies win or lose the series.

    The race is on.

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    The Crowd Says (114)

    • March 14th 2013 @ 9:26am
      kingplaymaker said | March 14th 2013 @ 9:26am | ! Report

      Cooper should go back to 10, JOC back to wing, Beale back to full-back. Barnes on the bench for the Lions series, Lealiifano on the bench afterwards, or maybe after the Bledisloe tests.

      • March 14th 2013 @ 11:32am
        WoobliesFan said | March 14th 2013 @ 11:32am | ! Report

        x2

        But Deans will find a way to tinker…..it’s in his nature

        • March 14th 2013 @ 2:09pm
          Hightackle said | March 14th 2013 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

          Tinker?
          So putting a guy on the wing who hasnt played there for his club much for 2 years, playing a guy whos mainly played 10 for the last year at FB and bringing back in a 10 who he must change the defensive pattern for isnt tinkering?
          Whatever.
          15) JOC
          10) Beale
          No Cooper

          Thats best for Aust.

      • Roar Guru

        March 14th 2013 @ 12:56pm
        Max Kenney-Herbert said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

        agree, JOC is a much more impressive winger than he is in 12 or 12 jersey, nothing wrong with a winger with great hands and boot

      • Roar Guru

        March 14th 2013 @ 4:44pm
        Mantis said | March 14th 2013 @ 4:44pm | ! Report

        Why would you put Lealiifano on the bench? Who starts at 12? He is the best option we have.

        • Roar Guru

          March 14th 2013 @ 4:54pm
          Jiggles said | March 14th 2013 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

          Tapaui…..

          • Roar Guru

            March 15th 2013 @ 11:01am
            Mantis said | March 15th 2013 @ 11:01am | ! Report

            Tapaui is a good player, but Lealiifano is running rings around him at the moment. CL, along with Mogg, are the two form Backs at the moment. If they keep up this form they pick themselves.

            • Roar Guru

              March 15th 2013 @ 11:10am
              Cattledog said | March 15th 2013 @ 11:10am | ! Report

              It’s an opinion. Please articulate exactly when CL ran rings around Benny Taps. I’m with Jiggles, at least he’s tested and playing well.

              • Roar Guru

                March 18th 2013 @ 12:22pm
                Mantis said | March 18th 2013 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

                Hes not running rings around him physically, but he, in my opinion, is playing better then him at the moment. Was last year as well.

        • March 14th 2013 @ 7:33pm
          Stin said | March 14th 2013 @ 7:33pm | ! Report

          How is Lealiifano not a contender?

      • March 14th 2013 @ 8:24pm
        Mushu said | March 14th 2013 @ 8:24pm | ! Report

        Wallaby backline containing all three would be a disaster defensively. Only real defender of the three is JOC, but after watching Rathbone steamroller him in the Brumbies vs Rebels game, I think the Wallabies are going to be in dire straights regardless of which of the three they stick in 10. Especially with the likes of Tuilagi, North or Roberts potentially in a Lions backline.

        Figure Deans should be looking to select combinations. If the Genia-Cooper partnership yields the results that it did in 2011, Deans will need to build a defensive pattern around Cooper, by perhaps selecting a hard hitting inside centre and a quick openside who can complete the tackle if Cooper can hold up the attacking player.

        Alternatively, Deans could select CL who is a proven defender and great with ball in hand. However, the Lions tour is probably not the place to find out if CL has what it takes to make and impact in the international arena.

        If the Reds combo fires, I would think Deans should go with:

        9. genia
        10. Cooper

        11. Ioane
        12. Taps
        13. Mccabe

        14. JOC
        15. Mogg

        with Cummins, Beale and White on the bench.

        • March 15th 2013 @ 3:14am
          NicolasPA said | March 15th 2013 @ 3:14am | ! Report

          I agree

    • March 14th 2013 @ 9:42am
      Wobbly said | March 14th 2013 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      At present Cooper has a nose ahead, but a form dive or injury and I suspect O’Connor will be thrust forward. I’d prefer Lealifano before O’Connor or Beale, but that ain’t oingtohappen under Dingo.

      • March 14th 2013 @ 3:29pm
        bmwwilliams said | March 14th 2013 @ 3:29pm | ! Report

        On form?

        9) Nic White
        10) CL
        11) Digby
        12) Taps
        13) No one definite. Faingaa/Cummins?
        14) JOC
        15) Mogg

        I’d be happy leaving Cooper and Beale on the sidelines for the moment – neither has really demanded inclusion at this point. Also don’t buy the argument that CL couldn’t be picked at 10. He’s a super experienced 10 and would slot in no problems. Barnes also playing 12 for the Tahs.

        Sub in Genia when he’s back and the backline starts to look fine – Especiallyas there are a few that could really put their hand up at 13 (Tomane, Mccabe, AAC, Sautia…)

        Aaah, one can dream…

        • Roar Guru

          March 14th 2013 @ 4:29pm
          Jiggles said | March 14th 2013 @ 4:29pm | ! Report

          To be fair CL hasn’t been playing 10, so Cooper is probably the form 10. Cooper has been solid with out being great. I’d really love White to put CL at 10 just to see proper pressure on Cooper.

          • March 14th 2013 @ 4:41pm
            the long white cloud said | March 14th 2013 @ 4:41pm | ! Report

            on form cummins hasnt been playing 13?

            • March 14th 2013 @ 4:48pm
              Markus said | March 14th 2013 @ 4:48pm | ! Report

              He has had some severe defensive lapses just playing on the wing, so having him play at Test level in the position that co-ordinates the backline defense isn’t such a clear decision.

            • Roar Guru

              March 14th 2013 @ 4:53pm
              Jiggles said | March 14th 2013 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

              Where have I said Cummins is playing at 13 right now?

        • Roar Guru

          March 14th 2013 @ 5:16pm
          Mantis said | March 14th 2013 @ 5:16pm | ! Report

          Youre picking players ‘on form’ but out of the position theyve been playing. Doesnt that defeat the purpose?

          ‘On form’ my backline would be:
          White (Although obviously Genia plays if fit)
          Cooper
          Digby
          Lealiifano
          A Smith (McCabe I think will take this position for the Brumbies when fit, and could force his way back into the Wallabies playing 13, which Ive always thought is his natural position)
          Rathbone
          Mogg

          No surprise the Brumbies and Reds make up the ‘form’ backline

    • March 14th 2013 @ 9:51am
      TembaVJ said | March 14th 2013 @ 9:51am | ! Report

      Its a tough question. One of the key things you need to think of is combinations when selecting a 10. Cooper and Ginia work well together but due to injuries Ginia might not be up to speed by lions time (I am sure he will be). Phipps and JOC or KB.

      Watching the 6 nations i get the feeling the Aussie forwards will get hammered especially with Poe out. Cooper does not do well with back foot ball, this is the reason he does well in SR and not international rugby. Beale is one of my top choices but you don’t know how long he will be out and if he will be match fit.

      JOC has had one game and though he did not blow the world away, showed glimpses of what can be with a bit of time at 10. He does have the x factor, he pulls defenders as he does not mind taking it to the line (unlike “don’t tackle me” cooper). Aslo keep in mind JOC is playing in a team that’s not consistent as say the brumbies. I often wonder how good he would be playing at 10 for the Brumbies.

      If I had my way, I would let JOC play 10 even when KB returns (to 15) I would let CL play 10 for the Brums. Australia needs a world class 10 not a super class 10.

      • March 14th 2013 @ 12:51pm
        Sickofthe10debate said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

        Not sure which Cooper you’ve been watching if you think he doesn’t take it to the line. Can someone can tell me the last time Beale put someone into a gap playing first receiver. Brilliant player, but NEVER has been a brilliant 10. If you’re going to take JOC away from the outside backs, as he has been brilliant on the wing for the wallabies, then he’s more of a Horan style inside centre rather than a 10 (just like Horan never worked at 10 either). However, as Lackofdepth pointed out on a previous debate, we’ll never seem him playing there for the Rebels, and therefore will never get to know.

        • March 14th 2013 @ 6:40pm
          handles said | March 14th 2013 @ 6:40pm | ! Report

          Thank goodness someone watches the same game as me.

          Cooper is the threat with ball in hand, because he runs, and passes, and kicks. Beale has not got the same vision.

    • March 14th 2013 @ 9:58am
      Rico Suave said | March 14th 2013 @ 9:58am | ! Report

      Cooper is your typical Carlos Spencer confidence player- lethal one moment, laughable the next. Unfortunately for him I think the Lions will recognize his mental fragility and really work him over. For me he would be a disastrous pick for the Wallabies because if the Lions were able to get into his head he would suffer another of his meltdowns and potentially cost the Wallabies vital points and possibly a game.
      Beale seems to me the obvious choice- a far more composed player with a better head on his shoulders. The Wallabies need a 10 who can operate behind a pack that is going backward. Given this is a distinct possiblity (no offence to the Wallabies’ pack but the Lions seem to have enough in their ranks to form a formidable pack) I think Cooper would be a bad choice for starting 10.

      • March 14th 2013 @ 10:03am
        TembaVJ said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:03am | ! Report

        Rico Cooper wishes he was in the same class as Spencer. 🙂

    • Roar Guru

      March 14th 2013 @ 10:09am
      biltongbek said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:09am | ! Report

      What about Folau?

      • March 14th 2013 @ 10:13am
        TembaVJ said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:13am | ! Report

        BB he is tall and strong enough to be a lock.. or loose.

        • Roar Guru

          March 14th 2013 @ 10:16am
          biltongbek said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:16am | ! Report

          Well he can be a tall flyhalf. 😉

          • Roar Guru

            March 14th 2013 @ 12:15pm
            Phil Bird said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

            biltongbek!

            want to get involved with live blogging rugby?

            • Roar Guru

              March 14th 2013 @ 2:51pm
              biltongbek said | March 14th 2013 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

              Hi phil, not sure mate, I have noticed tha SA games don’t get live blogging, but you lot all sleep when the Republic plays rugby.

      • March 14th 2013 @ 12:52pm
        Sickofthe10debate said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

        Perfect!!!

      • Roar Guru

        March 14th 2013 @ 1:21pm
        jeznez said | March 14th 2013 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

        ha ha, nice one biltong

    • March 14th 2013 @ 10:15am
      Justin2 said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:15am | ! Report

      If Deans is saying that the squad needs time together, 3 weeks, then he should be picking combinations for the Test series. Assuming back to fitness and form then the 9-10-12 combo should be all QLD end of story.

      Beale is injured and we dont know how he will come back. He has proven he isnt a 10 at Test level depsite good showings for the Rebels there. He will be lucky to make the 15 IMO and may be on the bench.

      JOC is a runner first and a playmaker second. He isnt a natural 10 and has not had nearly enough time in the position to take the leap to a Lions series with players he is unfamiliar with.

      People love to give it to Cooper over the semi performance and say he cracked under pressure. Yes he did. But he also also performed brilliantly in the cauldrons of South Africa too. This series is in AUS and the pressure will be on but judging from his game style so far this year he has put away some of the razzle dazzle and is looking to do the basics more often.

      He is the man to lead from 10 IMO.

      • Roar Guru

        March 14th 2013 @ 10:18am
        biltongbek said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:18am | ! Report

        Justin, Cooper performed brilliantly against Morne Steyn, all he had to do was his immitation drift ala Stephen Larkham and Morne was totally befuddled.

        • March 14th 2013 @ 10:29am
          TembaVJ said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:29am | ! Report

          Justin numbing coopers razzledazzle is like telling a one trick ponny trick to stop doing his trick. Its in my mind the only thing that makes cooper good, that and his long pass. His kicking is just as average as the rest of the 10’s in mind.

          I do agree that maybe he is the best choice but only due to the poor current choices in Australia. Man I wish CL was playing at 10 like he was last season before injury.

          Beale is an awesome 15 but 2nd to Mogg ATM. JOC will be better with time, better than Cooper.

          There is some time left in SR, ill call Jake and ask him to move CL back to 10.

          Keep watching JOC, he will get better with each game at 10.

          • March 14th 2013 @ 10:46am
            Justin2 said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:46am | ! Report

            Thats where we differ Temba. Cooper runs the game plan for the Reds, it been shouted by Link many times. He is more than just flash. His kicking from 10 is better than all the options IMO. In fact the one issue I have with all the options in AUS is that their kicking is sub standard.

            Beale is an awesome 15 as long as he doesnt have to take a high ball, a pretty big chink in the armour at Test level. Oh that and being over weight…

            JOC may get better, it wont be in time for the Lions IMO and nor would it be worth the risk when ready made combo’s are already better and have performed and been proven before.

            • March 14th 2013 @ 11:23am
              Markus said | March 14th 2013 @ 11:23am | ! Report

              “Beale is an awesome 15 as long as he doesnt have to take a high ball, a pretty big chink in the armour at Test level.”
              Or tackle. Can’t forget tackle.

              The Wallabies simply cannot afford to have both Cooper and Beale in the same lineup.
              And even O’Connor, to an extent. His one on one defense is fine, but he struggles with positioning sometimes and does not scramble on other’s missed tackles as well as a few other players around do.

              • March 14th 2013 @ 11:36am
                nickoldschool said | March 14th 2013 @ 11:36am | ! Report

                I have to disagree Markus. I still think the three can play together. They do completement each other IMO. Last year was a fiasco because they were either not here together or were unfit.

                Remember pre rwc, it did work. Why wouldn’t it in the future then? I think QC at ten, KB at 15 and JOC on the wing can do something. We just don’t have a good reliable pair of centres at this stage. Maybe JOC could be a good twelve but with not SR experience there I would put him n the wing.

                Based on last year I would have considered Lealiifano too but he doesn’t play ten for the Brumbies this year. Am not saying these three should be de facto in the starting XV but fit, with the right game plan and the right mindset they sure can do something. Tbh, I juts don’t think the wallabies can exist on the world stage without them. Not now at least.

          • March 14th 2013 @ 7:44pm
            Sickofthe10debate. said | March 14th 2013 @ 7:44pm | ! Report

            Rubbish. He receives the ball flat, takes it to the line, thereby creating space for his runners, and finds them with accurate short and long passes. Not denying his flaws, but he does what a 10 is supposed to do better than anyone else at the moment. Watch the reds rebels again and listen to Horan’s words of wisdom. Whether he should be picked or not is up to those in the know, but the above is FACT.

        • March 14th 2013 @ 10:42am
          Justin2 said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:42am | ! Report

          It wasnt “against Steyn” it was against SA. It wouldnt really matter who was the 10 against him. Half the time they dont actually mark each other anyway.

          • March 14th 2013 @ 11:31am
            WOLF said | March 14th 2013 @ 11:31am | ! Report

            Yeah. Especially when he hides at fullback!!!
            Ease of that “Quade Cooper koolaid” Justin2

            • March 14th 2013 @ 11:47am
              Justin2 said | March 14th 2013 @ 11:47am | ! Report

              I just think he is the best we have, the others have either been shown not to be good enough or dont play the position nearly enough to be considered.

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