Difference maker for Oz: 'He sets up the platform better than the forwards'
Much of the talk following the Wallabies’ back-to-back wins over the Springboks will rightly focus on returning pivot Quade Cooper, who’s put out two assured performances in the gold jumper over the past two weeks.
Cooper, who hadn’t played test rugby for almost four years prior to his recent re-call, was a composed figure for the Wallabies in their surprise victories and guided the team around the park like the seasoned pro he is.
21-year-old Noah Lolesio, who started the opening six matches of the Wallabies season, struggled at times with game management and while the Brumbies flyhalf is still seen as the future of the team, Cooper as very much installed himself as the ‘now’.
But there’s one other major change in the Wallabies ranks that Argentina coach Mario Ledesma rates as more important in Australia’s rejuvenation.
Ledesma, prior to taking on the role with Los Pumas, worked as forwards coach with the Wallabies from 2015 until 2017. He believes that it’s the return of midfielder Samu Kerevi who has helped the Australian national side take their game to the next level over the past two rounds of the Rugby Championship.
“Obviously, the cattle – like you say over here in Australia – is really important,” Ledesma said when queried about why the Wallabies are suddenly looking like a new side.
“The most important one, I think, is Samu. He makes such a difference. He brings such a physicality and go-forward that he sets up the platform better than the forwards and we can see why they’re setting every play on him from set-piece too, or as a dummy runner.
“But he’s really dominating centres and [Len] Ikitau has been a very good surprise too for them. I just think the other players kept improving and getting those players back [has made a difference] and obviously if Sean [McMahon] is there too…”
While Ledesma saw Kerevi has the catalyst for the Wallabies’ turn-around, he didn’t want to take all the credit away from Cooper, who he says has grown as a player since he was last in the set-up.
“No, I’m not [surprised], because of the quality of the player he is,” he said. “I think that what we saw of him is a different maturity, maybe not overplaying his hand. Maybe because of his age, maybe his maturity, he’s playing much more for the team I think. He’s had two very good games, very convincing, so the staff must be really happy to make that decision at the time.”
With two games against the Wallabies looming, Ledesman will evidently be putting the microscope on the side’s top-performing midfield.
While unlikely, two bonus-point victories over the coming two fixtures would see the Pumas leapfrog the Wallabies into third place on the Championship ladder – but Argentina will have to up their game considerably following their four losses in the competition to date.
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