Quade Cooper will train with the Wallabies this week and could be in line for a sensational recall for the Bledisloe Cup, despite not being named in the 42-man squad announced on Sunday.
Nine News reported the shock call up, saying Cooper and coach Dave Rennie met during the week to discuss a role for the former star who last played for the Wallabies in 2017.
While the role is primarily as a mentor and cover for injured James O’Connor, there would be nothing stopping Cooper from playing an on-field role.
Rennie praised Noah Lolesio, who deputised at 10 for the Wallabies in the series won over France and Cooper wasn’t in an extended 42-man squad named earlier Sunday, calling into question just how likely a playing role would be.
BREAKING: @QuadeCooper is tonight joining the @wallabies on the Gold Coast. Cooper is coming in as a training player, but will travel to NZ with the squad and is an option for selection, if Aust suffer injuries. | @9NewsQueensland @RugbyOnNine @wwos
— Michael Atkinson (@kinson88) July 25, 2021
The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Wallabies sources as saying: “Cooper will travel with the team to New Zealand, likely to be on Friday, in a stunning return to the national set-up.
The Herald added: “Rennie and Cooper organised a 90-minute meeting this week to discuss the prospect of returning in a training capacity, given the logistical headache of bringing players in from around the country.
“The Wallabies coach wanted to get clarity around Cooper’s headspace and whether he was interested in coming back to mentor a young squad.”
Rennie has revealed James O’Connor is likely to miss all three Tests against the All Blacks next month, while raising the prospect of a change in order of the games following the naming of a 42-man squad on Sunday.
Rennie also explained the decision to bring Toulon’s Duncan Paia’aua back into the fold for the first time since 2017.
These are the main talking points from Rennie’s media conference on Sunday, before the Cooper news broke.
On James O’Connor’s fitness
O’Connor was named in the squad but still isn’t fit, having missed the 2-1 series win over France.
“He tweaked his groin on the Tuesday when we were in Melbourne,” said Rennie. “That will see him sidelined initially. The fact we have to go to NZ and then onto Perth it’s likely he’ll miss all three of those.”
“Obviously from a COVID perspective there was a little bit of forward planning required,” said Rennie. “We know we’re going to spend a bit of time in New Zealand and a bit of time in Perth so with border closures we have to grab a bigger squad, bigger than we initially intended, knowing that we can’t bring anyone else into the squad in New Zealand or Perth.”
He said the large squad was to get everyone they might need into the bubble as there might not be an option to add on the run because of COVID regulations.
“There is no chance of getting anyone out of NSW or Victoria part way through,” said Rennie. “We are looking at the worst case scenario and getting quality depth through the squad.”
Rennie said Australia would travel to New Zealand on Friday assuming all members test negative, and suggested that Australia might play the first two matches in NZ before coming home to Perth.
They are due to meet the All Blacks at Eden Park, next Saturday.
“It affects travel plans. We’ll have to go a bit earlier – which means this week,” said Rennie. “We can get an exemption to get in as a squad. We’ve been constantly COVID tested for the last few weeks.
“We’ll test again today and Wednesday and likelihood is we’ll travel Friday so we’ll be there eight days out from the Test.”
He said the team would not have to quarantine, despite a current travel ban between the countries, but was expecting to play in Wellington on Aug 14 instead of Aug 28.
“It’s unlikely the Wellington Test will be played on the 28th because we’re all going to Perth.
We could well be playing 7, 14 and 21 with the last one in Perth.
“Nothing is confirmed. There have been a lot scenarios thrown out. We’re prepared to play 7th and 14th in New Zealand and go to Perth if that’s what’s deemed what’s best.
“Technically the Auckland test could change as well – there’s a bit to be sorted through and that should happen in the 24 hours.”
He was asked if he was prepared to play all three games in NZ.
“No, that’s not going to happen. To win the Bledisloe you have to win one of two games in New Zealand so nothing changes really.”
On the recall for Duncan Paia’aua despite previous reluctance to call up OS based players
“I’d spoken previously to Duncan about coming home and playing some Super Rugby here to have a crack at the Wallabies,” said Rennie.
“He’s back home from Toulon. I’ve seen a fair bit of him play and he was at the Reds when I was at the Chiefs.
“He’s very versatile and covers a number of spots and so I guess it’s a chance to bring him in and cast an eye over him and make a decision beyond that. He is a player capable of playing at this level and we didn’t want to bring in guys just to make up the numbers hence the reason we’ve chosen Duncan.
“We like his versatility. When you look at our squad we have a lot of specialist wingers, specialist midfielders and not a lot of flexibility.
“Someone like Reece Hodge plays multiple positions. We think someone like Jordi Petaia can cover midfield and wing and potentially fullback. But based on needs, Duncan ticks a lot of boxes.
“Duncan would have headed back to Toulon so we thought it was important to make a commitment, and we genuinely believe he can add to this group.
“He’s really excited, we’ll get him into shape quickly and his job is to put pressure on us from a selection perspective.”
On Petaia’s match fitness
Rnnie wanted Petaia and some other players who missed game time against France to get some games of club rugby before COVID made that impossible.
“It’s frustrating but Jordy is in really good nick,” Rennie said. “He’s worked hard. All us old people were pretty excited watching him train but we just want to make sure we’ve done everything that when he returns he’s ready.
“A club game would have been good but unfortunately not possible now.”
On newcomer Nick Frost
“He’s a big man and very athletic,” said Rennie, who compared his selection to Darcy Swain, who was outstanding against France.
“Darcy’s physicality in the game has made big shifts and we see the same with Nick, who is very athletic, a big lineout forward and we think we can accelerate his learning and development within the group. He’s with an eye to the future.”
On what he took from the French series
“It wasn’t always perfect but from a character perspective it was right up there,” said Rennie. “In the first Test we found a way of winning and we played the third Test with 14 players and found a way to win.
“We are developing a group of guys who understand the importance to work hard for each other for as long as it takes.
“We’ll get better. We know we have a lot more in us but from an attitude point of view it was really pleasing. All the comments I was hearing face to face was they were really impressed with the character shown under pressure.”
Allan Alaalatoa (46, Brumbies, 27)
Tom Banks (14, Brumbies, 27)
Angus Bell (6, NSW Waratahs, 20)
Pone Fa’amausili* (uncapped, Melbourne Rebels, 24)
Lalakai Foketi* (uncapped, NSW Waratahs, 26)
Nick Frost* (uncapped, Brumbies, 21)
Jake Gordon (8, NSW Waratahs, 28)
Reece Hodge (46, Melbourne Rebels, 26)
Michael Hooper (c) (108, NSW Waratahs, 29)
Len Ikitau (2, Brumbies, 22)
Feleti Kaitu’u* (uncapped, Western Force, 26)
Andrew Kellaway (2, Melbourne Rebels, 25)
Marika Koroibete (37, Melbourne Rebels, 28)
Rob Leota* (uncapped, Melbourne Rebels, 24)
Noah Lolesio (5, Brumbies, 21)
Lachlan Lonergan (2, Brumbies, 21)
Ryan Lonergan* (uncapped, Brumbies, 23)
Tate McDermott (5, Queensland Reds, 22)
Fraser McReight (1, Queensland Reds, 22)
Andy Muirhead* (uncapped, Brumbies, 29)
Isi Naisarani (11, Melbourne Rebels, 26)
James O’Connor (55, Queensland Reds, 31)
Brandon Paenga-Amosa (12, Queensland Reds, 25)
Duncan Paia’aua* (uncapped, Toulon, 26)
Hunter Paisami (9, Queensland Reds, 23)
Jordan Petaia (8, Queensland Reds, 21)
Matt Philip (12 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 27)
Tom Robertson (24, Western Force, 26)
Izack Rodda (25, Western Force, 24)
Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (28, Queensland Reds, 24)
Pete Samu (10, Brumbies, 29)
Scott Sio (68, Brumbies, 29)
James Slipper (103, Brumbies, 32)
Darcy Swain (3, Brumbies, 24)
Lachlan Swinton (2, NSW Waratahs, 24)
Matt To’omua (57, Melbourne Rebels, 31)
Taniela Tupou (28, Queensland Reds, 25)
Jordan Uelese (13, Melbourne Rebels, 24)
Rob Valetini (7, Brumbies, 22)
Nic White (37, Brumbies, 31)
Harry Wilson (8, Queensland Reds, 21)
Tom Wright (5, Brumbies, 24)