The South African Super Rugby conference has a slightly different feel about it this season, but even without some of the names that have left each team, I can’t help but feel that every side bar perhaps one will be a dangerous prospect in 2019.
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Don’t tell Australia’s regular rugby sevens game-breaker that bringing Quade Cooper halfway around the world to watch this weekend’s Sydney world series tournament is a waste of time.
Cooper is a controversial omission from the Thunderbolts’ 12-man squad for the inaugural Sydney 7s despite the Australian Rugby Union insisting his French club, Toulon, release him for the tournament.
A delayed arrival on Wednesday left the Wallabies showman with only one training session with his new teammates and coach Andy Friend with an unenviable decision to make.
Friend chose not to gamble with the sevens novice at the potential expense of a strong team showing and first-day pool showdown with good mate and fellow Rio Olympics hopeful Sonny Bill Williams.
But Cameron Clark, Australia’s star attacking player, denied the whole episode has been a fruitless exercise for the Thunderbolts.
“I don’t think it’s a waste of time at all,” Clark told AAP.
“He’ll take away a lot for being around the group and will be a lot better for it the next time he joins us.”
The centre said this week’s learning, training and watching will pay off when Cooper – slated to play in tournaments in Las Vegas, London and Paris – does eventually make his world series debut
“To win a gold medal you have to be a close-knit group,” he said. “A lot of us hadn’t even met him before so it was a great opportunity for him to get around and meet all the guys and start learning about the game and all our plays and structures.
“When there’s only seven on the field you all have to be moving in sync so it would have been hard for him after half a training session to be thrown into the mix this weekend.”
Clark has made such an impact in his short career since signing to the sevens program straight out of school as an 18-year-old in 2012, that he is in his second year signed up as an ambassador by tournament sponsors HSBC.
He believes Cooper’s natural talents will also see him also be a sevens hit, with time to adapt, but has backed regular playmaker James Stannard to pilot the Thunderbolts this weekend where a semi-final finish should be considered a success.
A near full-strength Australia plays Portugal, Canada and New Zealand in their pool matches on Saturday at sold-out Allianz Stadium.