It was the bombshell omission that had everyone in Australian rugby double and triple look at Eddie Jones’ Wallabies World Cup squad: Quade Cooper had been left out.
But the man who shapes to wear the No.10 jersey at this year’s World Cup says Cooper will be there for him even though he won’t be with him in France.
“We’re still super close, still talk a little bit,” rising 22-year-old playmaker Carter Gordon told a small group of reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.
“He sent me a really nice message when the squad came out and he just said he’s here for me and he’s going to continue to help me everywhere I can. So yeah, that just shows the person he is and how good of a bloke he is.”
While Gordon and Cooper roomed together back in June, the duo have known each other for years.
It was back in 2018 Gordon was invited to a training session alongside Cooper and it wasn’t long before the 2011 Super Rugby winner told Rebels general manager Nick Stiles to do everything he could to lure him to Melbourne. Suffice to say, Stiles got his man soon enough.
Cooper, meanwhile, has backed Gordon every step of the way, saying in July that the rookie’s performance on debut showed “what he’s all about” and that “he’s got the makings to be a great player”.
Cooper added: “I want to be there to continue to support him and challenge him, in the same way that we’re challenging each other.”
Extraordinarily, the apprentice has now been preferred to the master after Cooper’s sensational and dramatic axing last week.
It left everyone, including his teammates, shocked.
“Obviously, I’ve learned a lot from Quade and he’s been massive for my growth the last few months,” Gordon said.
But the training wheels are well and truly off now, with Gordon, who was watching Cooper play in the 2011 World Cup from a hotel room in Darwin ahead of an athletics meet, the only specialist fly-half in the squad.
Waratahs utility back Ben Donaldson, who spent the bulk of the Super Rugby season at fly-half despite bookending the campaign in the No.15 jersey, also provides cover in the playmaking role.
But despite being the favourite to wear the No.10 jersey, Gordon said he wasn’t taking anything for granted.
“Being the only 10 on the sheet doesn’t really mean too much to me,” he said, fresh from returning from the Northern Territory after a four-day camp, including a night under the stars in Arnhem Land.
“It’s more so about getting better and still earning my spot because if you go out there and play some bad rugby, you’re going to be giving it up, so it’s just making sure I’m growing every day and doing everything I can to keep that jersey.”
One thing is for sure, Gordon has a strong backer in Jones.
After holding him back for the opening two Tests of The Rugby Championship, the Wallabies coach came out staunchly in defence of his selection of Gordon for the Bledisloe Cup fixtures.
“Well, firstly, I don’t think I got it wrong, mate,” Jones said, after a New Zealand journalist questioned Gordon’s selection following the heavy Bledisloe I defeat at the MCG in front of 84,000.
“In fact, I’m going to get it right and the player will get it right, and to say that a young 10 in his first game, you’ve got it wrong in selecting him, is just a load of rubbish mate.
“So, anyone who asks that question, doesn’t know anything about rugby.
“Well if you know anything about rugby, you know that 10s need time in the seat.
“If you don’t know anything about rugby, don’t talk to me.”
Gordon said it was nice to have Jones go into bat for him.
“He’s been helping me massively on the field and it’s awesome to see him backing me off the field too, which I’m super grateful for,” he said.
“He’s doing everything he can to make me a better player, which is absolutely unreal for my performance and my growth.”
Nor is Gordon shying away from the pressure of taking the shots at goal – a crucial aspect that often defines World Cups.
“I love goalkicking,” he said. “It’s just a bonus you get to do on top of playing rugby.
“I’ve always done it growing up as a kid and obviously being behind Hodgey [Reece Hodge] in the goalkicking takes at the Rebels, but still practice heaps and obviously can’t wait to be the kicker out there.”
Leg and hip issues meant that Gordon couldn’t practice his kicking for the bulk of this year’s Super Rugby season, but it comes as no surprise that the blonde-haired playmaker enjoys the big moment.
A gun golfer, Gordon plays off almost scratch (0.6). It’s another sign that he can handle the pressure and hit his target.
As for his rapid rise from fringe Super Rugby player to World Cup starter in the space of a year, Gordon can barely believe it.
“It’s always been a goal,” he said.
“But last year I would have said ‘you’re kidding yourself.’
“I had a goal for this year to try and crack one of the Wallabies training squads and got to do that in the first April camp. To be able to go along on the whole journey so far has been unreal and a bit mind-blowing to me if I thought about it 12 months ago.
“I can’t wait to get to France and keep the year going.”