All Blacks legend Andrew Mehrtens has urged Wallabies selectors to “100 percent” back Noah Lolesio as their No.10 for the 2023 World Cup, while saying James O’Connor is short of being “world class”.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, Mehrtens said the selection of Quade Cooper to play against South Africa on Sunday “highlights the sad state of No.10 depth in Australia”.
The former New Zealand flyhalf turned pundit, warned Australia fans not to expect too much from 33-year-old Cooper after fur years out of Test rugby, but refelected that Cooper’s comments have shown he has a relaxed mindset ahead of his much awaited return.
But Mehrtens said he did not believe Cooper was a realistic candidate to wear the No.10 at the next World Cup.
“It appears James O’Connor will be gunning to be the side’s No.10 at the 2023 tournament but a growing collective initiative in the Wallabies, which involves thinking on their feet rather than reverting to structure, will suit Noah Lolesio’s game better,” Mehrtens wrote.
“If executed, it could result in a more dangerous and unpredictable team by 2023.
“That’s not to say that O’Connor can’t play that game but realistically, Lolesio is the future and I’m sure Rennie will be letting the youngster know that.
“Wallabies coaching staff should be telling Lolesio he’s their guy. They need to be 100 per cent honest when giving feedback but back him 100 per cent.”
Mehrtens said he expected Lolesio to have a break after playing in the six domestic Tests so far, adding “a lack of depth meant he couldn’t be managed through that period.”
And Mehrtens was dismissive of O’Connor’s claims on the jersey for 2023.
“Is O’Connor actually world-class? You would have to say probably not,” Mehrtens wrote.
“He has been lauded for his new-found maturity in the No.10 position in recent seasons but of all the tier-one nations in the world, I’m not sure how many would swap their No.10 for O’Connor.
“Under O’Connor is Lolesio, who oozes talent, but is still a work in progress. Then who?”
Mehrtens said Matt To’omua and Reece Hodge are potential stop gap measures while Waratahs duo Will Harrison and Ben Donaldson have to have more games to prove themselves as options.
Meanwhile New Zealand coach Ian Foster was unsure what impact Cooper would have on the field, when asked to comment on Friday.
“To be fair, I haven’t spent too much time thinking about that, but I’ll try to come up with an adequate answer for you,” Foster said.
“He certainly creates a lot of interest, particularly over here [in Australia], but I haven’t really seen Quade play for two or three years, so I’m really not too sure how to comment on that.
“I know the Quade of old has a lot going for him and, from what I hear, he’s done really well in their camp, so I’m sure they’ve picked him for a reason.
“In some ways, when you’ve lost a few, you are looking for a little bit of a change in seasoning in your squad to add a different flavour, and he’ll certainly bring that.”
New Zealand Herald columnist Phil Gifford, meanwhile, was scathing of Cooper’s selection in a story titled ‘Wallabies with Quade Cooper seem destined for disaster.’
“You’re the Wallabies playing South Africa on Sunday,” Gifford wrote.
“The most realistic summation of how things just went for you against the All Blacks came from your best back, halfback Tate McDermott. He said “we’re pretty soft.”
“South Africa have big ball-running forwards, who are basically cinder blocks in boots. They especially like to run the channels close to the breakdowns and scrums.
“So you pick Quade Cooper at first-five?
“In what universe does that make sense?”
Gifford added: “If you’ve ever seen him in a boxing ring there’s no question about the man’s courage. His tackling limitations are therefore something of a mystery.
“But one thing does feel more certain. If defence was a shaky area for him in his 20s, nobody in the game would suggest that in his 30s a couple of seasons in the relatively relaxed arena of Japanese club rugby will have sharpened things up.”