Quade Cooper is out of the remainder of the Wallabies’ spring tour Tests, with coach Dave Rennie saying it was Cooper’s decision, having “felt compelled” to stay in Japan with his club Kintetsu Liners.
Rennie said Wallabies veteran Kurtley Beale would join from Europe while young No.10 Noah Lolesio, left out of the tour initially to train with the Brumbies, is being brought in despite a reluctance to bring in players from Australia.
Cooper joins fellow Japanese-based players Sean McMahon and Samu Kerevi in making themselves unavailable, with a clearly frustrated and “disappointed” Rennie making it clear it was his choice having felt that his club wanted him to stay with them.
Plenty of Wallabies fans will wonder how the three players, all restored to the side this year after long absences, have prioritised clubs over the gold jersey.
“That’s their primary employer, isn’t it?” said Rennie. “Ideally we want guys who are desperate to be Wallabies.
“He’s a good man,” Rennie said of Cooper. “He’s contributed massively on and off the field. He’s torn – he wants to be here. He wants to be a Wallaby, but he feels loyalty to his club.
“He’s made a decision he feels is the right one. He’s made my decision that’s best for him.
“I think if he had the support of the club and the blessing of the club he would have come. But he hasn’t.
“He wanted the blessing of the club, we talked about some flexibility around the tour dates but in the end he felt he needed to be there supporting his club, his employer heading into their season.
“We’ve accepted that and we’ve moved on.
“What this highlights is discussing it with their clubs early would have been important.”
Rugby Australia’s handling of the situation has come under fire in recent days but Rennie gave his version of events as to how it got to this point.
“I spoke to all those boys when we were on the Gold Coast,” said Rennie. “They said that they had concerns around their clubs, and how the clubs would feel about them travelling in November close to the start of their season.
“But they all assured me they were keen to travel. And so for that reason, we got into negotiations with the clubs.”
Rennie said, however, the three players were not happy for Australia to use regulation nine and “tell the clubs that we’d take them.
“That’s the reason we had multiple zoom meetings to try to sort through the problem and took a bit of flexibility on both parties. In the end we have seen the results. We’re really disappointed.”
By Rennie’s version of events the clubs told Rugby Australia the players could tour.
So, Rennie was asked, did he feel the club’s had coerced the trio into not joining the tour party?
“All I’ll say is the players felt that the clubs wanted them to be there, it was an important period, their experience with the group they’ve got, heading into the preseason. The players felt compelled to stay.”
Rennie said Lolesio would have been in the tour party had Cooper been unvailable when it was named.
Cooper’s starting place will be likely taken over by James O’Connor. “He’s looking good and ready to go,” said Rennie. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”