At 33:42 on the game clock in the game betweens the Chiefs and the Reds, the Chiefs kicked an awkward bouncing punt towards the Reds quarter.
Quade Cooper initially went to play at it outside the 22 and then thought better of it.
He pulled back, let it bounce inside the 22, fielded it and sent the ball back with interest, finding touch safely in the Chiefs half.
The New Zealand commentator said: “Quade Copper is playing well. He has had a good first half hour. He is not trying to do too much … that was very smart play.”
I am sure that I was not alone in thinking that this was correct, and a great response to his omission from the ‘Logistics Squad.’
So I was shocked when I read David Lord’s article about that game, and Cooper’s performance.
For those who missed it, David’s view was on Cooper’s ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ performance focused on the difference between his first half – when he was deemed a ‘liability’ – and his second-half, which was ‘matching-winning’.
“In the first half Cooper was a hack, spilling regulation passes, passing along the ground, inexcusably missing touch with penalty kicks, and generally out of sorts.”
I should note here that Quade did miss touch once, and it occurred after the Fox comments above.
Hmm. I went searching for other views of the game. Jim Morton, writing for wires service AAP, thought Quade’s start was “nervous”, but noted his ‘influence’:
“McKenzie paid credit to halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper, who were at their influential best…”
“Cooper has been left out of Australia’s 30-man logistics camp, starting in Sydney on Sunday, but showed he remained Test quality with a try and strong kicking game in a 16-point display following a nervous start.”
ABC Online’s view was arguably the most similar to David Lord’s.
“Halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper combined brilliantly to put the finishing touches on some great work by the Reds pack at the breakdown and off their lineout.
“It was best highlighted when Cooper, who overcame an error-strewn opening, dummied his way past opposite number Aaron Cruden just after half-time for a 21-13 lead.”
However the the international press were uniform in their praise for Quade’s game.
Planet-Rugby.com said: “Cooper’s masterclass performance inspired the Reds to a resounding victory.
ESPNscrum said: “Queensland Reds produced a stunning defensive display to overpower the Chiefs in Hamilton, with Quade Cooper providing an attacking spark to suggest he remains the Wallabies’ No.1 fly-half despite his omission from the coming logistics camp in Sydney.”
AFP also noted the Wallaby selection angle:
“Quade Cooper made an emphatic statement to Wallabies selectors ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour as he steered the Queensland Reds to an upset 31-23 win over the Waikato Chiefs yesterday.”
Even our friends across the ditch saw things in a different light.
Stuff.co.nz said: “Quade Cooper and Will Genia are both on fire for the Reds”, and The NZ Herald thought Robbie has some “explaining to do”…
“Having left Quade Cooper out of his “logistics” camp featuring the 30 best players in Australia, the first-five played a starring role in his Reds’ team’s victory over the Chiefs in front of 16,400 at Waikato Stadium this afternoon.
The funny thing was it wasn’t even particularly unexpected. Cooper and halfback Will Genia are such a potent and intelligent attacking force there seems no limit to what they can do on a rugby field and so it proved…”
At iAfrica.com, they were impressed too:
“Reds captain James Horwill produced an inspired performance… Flyhalf Quade Cooper was equally as impressive…”
So, no wiser about what David Lord and the ABC journo were watching, I went back to the tape.
In the first half, Quade handled the ball 28 times, including kick-offs and conversions. He also made one tackle assist and four perfectly executed front-on tackles, two of which where probably try savers, on Kahui at 4:38 and on Hika Elliott at 10:36.
Of his 28 possessions, 8 were kicks “from hand”, 5 for touch, 2 for position (kicked from outside his own 22), and one penalty kick for touch.
All except the penalty kick for touch were perfectly executed. In the case of the penalty kick, the game clock was at 36:56. The Reds forwards were on top, and had already rumbled one rolling maul over from a close lineout.
In my view, it was well worth going for extra distance. If you get it the try is on, and if you don’t the risk is low, as the likely response is a kick back from poor position, and still your lineout feed. The latter is what happened.
So I would argue that David’s comment that Quade was “inexplicably missing touch with penalty kicks” (note the plural) has been debunked.
Of his remaining possessions, he lost the ball twice. Once was a knock on from a poor pass from Jake Schatz, at 3:32 in the game. I am sure Quade would have kicked himself, but the ball bounced at his feet. He was also stripped of possession going for an offload at minute 7:31.
Other than that his handling was flawless. So a second string to David’s bow – “spilling regulation passes” – has also snapped, and I note that it is once again plural.
There were no passes “along the ground”, so that allegation never stood up. David may have been referring to the two wide left-to-right passes that bounced, one of about 20 metres and the other even longer. Both went to hand, and one resulted in a line break to Ben Tapuai.
On the positive side of the ledger, I mentioned his excellent defense above. Seven times in my notes, I graded his contributions as “perfect”, and may more as “good”. He offloaded dangerously – one at 2.03 was especially good. So the final accusation, that Quade was “out of sorts”, doesn’t stack up either.
Robbie Deans doesn’t seem to be a fan, and there were some comments on David’s article that supported his observation, so it is possible that there is a trend to hold Cooper to a higher standard than others.
His mistakes are remembered, and his magic is now run-of-the mill.
Both David’s article and the ABC Online article lead me to a question: Is Quade Cooper held to a higher standard than any other Wallabies player?