Eddie Jones’ decision to leave Quade Cooper out of his World Cup squad is a tough one to understand but I think it came down to a choice between Quade and Nic White.
I have huge respect for Whitey and Quade and their games. If it was up to me they’d both be on the plane to France but I’m trying to delve into the mind of Eddie and see why he might have made the decision he has with respect to his 9s and 10s and their balance.
Firstly, I don’t think either of them played as well as they would have liked to in the lead-up to the announcement of the squad.
It seems like Eddie wanted a good blend of youth and experience and I don’t think he felt as though he could take them both to the World Cup.
Maybe if they’d played well enough and demanded selection he would have – but because of their form, he probably felt forced to choose between them.
In a situation where it was either-or, I would have gone for Quade for this reason:
Carter Gordon is going to be the starting No.10 and Tate is going to be starting No.9, I think. Eddie would be thinking he could choose an experienced 9 as cover or an experienced 10, but not both.
For me, the balance would work better if he selected Quade only, or both of them.
As a young 10 it would give Carter a level of comfort knowing that you’ve got someone like Quade there to mentor and guide you, and to be there off the bench in case you’re not playing well.
Whereas you wouldn’t say Tate is inexperienced at all, or needs similar support to Carter. Tate’s coming into the prime of his career in that regard – he’s played over 50 Super games and 24 Tests.
Eddie did give Quade every chance to push his case for selection. And likewise with Whitey, who would probably agree he hasn’t been up to the high standards that he sets for himself.
But the team just hasn’t functioned well and certain individuals have to pay the price for that.
It’s natural that Quade will be disappointed. It’s the pinnacle of your rugby career to be able to represent your country at a World Cup, but with where he’s at in terms of the man that he is and the place that he is in his life, it’s very much it’s just another step along the journey.
He’ll be the first to say that he doesn’t particularly define himself as just being a rugby player. Achieving success for him is more day-to-day and it’s that journey that’s important to him. He’ll be disappointed but he’ll take in his stride.
On reflection, it’s odd that Eddie hasn’t given Ben Donaldson or Issak Fines-Leleiwasa a go this season and yet they’ve been parachuted straight in.
What that suggests to me is that Eddie’s prioritising the future. Whatever they get out of this World Cup – and they could go all the way – this tournament is almost a bonus.
Eddie has decided to take the opportunity to regenerate the squad like France did in 2019 when they picked all their young players. They have been seeing the fruits of that develop over the last four years leading into this World Cup.
They’ve had an incredible run of success and it seems like Eddie is trying to go with the same formula.
If we won the games leading into the World Cup, even one or two out of the four, it would have meant the players were tracking in the right direction. So, it would have been justifiable to pick those players, such as Quade, Michael Hooper and others who have missed out after a lot of chances.
The fact that we went none from four means there needed to be some sort of concession made that what we’re doing isn’t working.
Overall the selection is incredibly brave. And yet, because of the nature of the draw, there’s a chance that we get through the quarters and the semis and that’s enough to justify the direction he’s taking us.
It was very much a rebuild job when he came in. As much as he talks about it being a “smash and grab” you’ve got to rebuild the game from the ground up and obviously that starts with the Wallabies. There will be short-term pain of bringing players up to speed from a skill level perspective, introducing a winner’s mindset, in the short term and also the long term.
Being a young team, hopefully they will go in and play with a bit of freedom, not carry the baggage of prior results. If they can get through to the quarters – it sounds simple and stupid – but it’s whoever turns up in the best headspace. Against New Zealand, England or France, if you play with the right mindset it’s anyone’s game.
I understand the decision to leave out Michael Hooper, even though he could have featured.
Since he came back from his mental health break last year I think he hasn’t been the same player. Maybe that’s partially to do with all the things that were going on mentally, but also it just seems physically that he’s been struggling a bit. He seems a bit banged up. In that Springboks Test in Pretoria he made a couple of tackles and he was clutching at his shoulder.
We’re used to seeing Hoops throw himself at everything. At his best, he’s as full of running in the first second as the last second. He’s full of energy in the contact area, ripping in.
It just seems like he’s probably lost a little bit of his edge. Maybe that’s a mental thing or maybe it’s a physical thing. Then you combine that with the fact that you’ve got guys coming through like Fraser McReight and Tom Hooper, both of whom were exceptional on the weekend against the All Blacks.
They’re young, they’re hungry and it seems like it is unfortunately time up for Hoops. It’s not easy for me to say because he’s younger than me, but I had so much respect for him as a player because of all the things that he’s been able to achieve.
And also the way he’s conducted himself and how consistent his standards have been in a time for Australian Rugby where there just hasn’t been that much success. He’s been one of the very, very few shining lights.
The big surprise for me has been the fall from grace of Pete Samu. He would complement the backrow really well. I like the idea of Pete in the No.7 jersey and every time he’s worn it he’s done well. He’s a big body, he’s physical, he’s dynamic in the carry and he’s one that I feel would be quite unlucky to not be there.
The other is Ryan Lonergan. He’s taken over the pecking order at the Brumbies in place of Whitey and I think he would actually suit the way Eddie wants to play best of anyone. He’s quick to the breakdown, excellent pass, good kicker. Probably doesn’t have the same running game as a Tate but if you look at the core responsibilities of a 9, he probably edges Tate. And he’s a leader just like Tate. That’s a really tough one for me.
The biggest thing that surprised me about the squad is the number of changes, although it might not be as dramatic as it appears on the surface.
The narrative around the last four Tests has been about building combinations, allowing guys to come back from injury and get into better nick for the World Cup. Building cohesiveness as a group, understanding the way they want to play together – and now this selection leading into the World Cup is almost like the opposite.
But if you look at the last two Tests, the core of what Eddie wants is there – Tate at 9, Carter at 10 , Samu at 12, Jordan Petaia, Andrew Kellaway and the wingers. The backline remains untouched. And in terms of your pack, you’ve got Hooper, you’ve got McReight, you’ve got Rob Valetini, you’ve got Will Skelton. The core of the group is there.
So it’s not as radical as it might look on face value.