'How do you defend that': Quade Cooper's plan to stop Beauden Barrett
It has been four years since the 33-year-old last pulled on the green and gold jersey of Australia, and after Wallabies boss Dave Rennie called Cooper into his Rugby Championship squad as cover for the injured James O’Connor, a return to international rugby is in sight for the experienced pivot.
Whether or not Cooper will actually take to the field at Optus Stadium this weekend remains to be seen, with the likelihood of his 71st test appearance made murky by the fact he could depart the Australian camp as early as next week.
By that point, O’Connor is expected to rejoin the squad when it relocates to Queensland, where he is currently based, for the rest of the Rugby Championship.
The idea of thrusting Cooper into Australia’s match day squad for the final Bledisloe Cup test of the year has been labelled by some as short-sighted, but, should he feature at all, it would make for a tantalising storyline.
Not only for the fact that it would complete one of the unlikeliest test rugby comeback in recent times, but it would also be highly likely – almost certain, in fact – that Cooper would be pitted against Beauden Barrett in a head-to-head battle at No 10.
Barrett has a clear run to the starting All Blacks lineup in his preferred position of first-five after New Zealand head coach Ian Foster left incumbent playmaker Richie Mo’unga at home to attend the arrival of his second child.
Barrett, a two-time World Rugby Player of the Year, is subsequently set for a prolonged spell in the No 10 jersey for the first time since 2018 after having featured predominantly at fullback for the All Blacks in recent seasons.
The 30-year-old has started just once at first-five this season, against Fiji in Dunedin, but has struggled to reclaim his place in New Zealand’s starting team due to Mo’unga’s mercurial rise in form.
However, with New Zealand and Australia’s border restrictions ruling Mo’unga out for an additional two weeks once he eventually travels across the Tasman to link back up with the All Blacks squad, Barrett will have a lengthy run of games to state his case for inclusion in future starting teams.
The first of those auditions begins this weekend, and that, Cooper said, presents a daunting task for the Wallabies, who have already felt the wrath of Mo’unga’s attacking prowess this year and now have ready themselves for an onslaught from Barrett.
“That’s the thing about the All Blacks. You’ve got Richie Mo’unga staying at home for the birth of one of his children, and you have Beaudy come in – two of the best players in the world,” Cooper told media on Tuesday.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 1, 2021
“How do you defend that? It’s one of those things that you can only put so much emphasis on one person and stop them. It’s just more about slowing them down, and the ABs as a whole.
“They’ve been a phenomenal team over the past three games and we’re very much more focused on trying to nail down our stuff.”
Although the Wallabies were, among other things, guilty of poor decision-making and inaccurate at the set piece in their first two defeats to the All Blacks in Auckland last month, Cooper said his team’s focus on improvement is much broader than just fixing specific issues.
He said the development of Australia’s younger, less-experienced players – such as young pivot Noah Lolesio, who has started at No 10 in all of the Wallabies tests this year – is paramount for the overall improvement of Rennie’s side.
“We’ve got a lot of young players, as we spoke about, that have shown some great things over the past few games and the series against the French,” Cooper said.
“So, as long as those guys can continue to grow, everybody in the squad puts their hand up and tries to push each other, then hopefully we’ll be in a great spot.
“But, to answer your question, he [Barrett] is a difficult bloke to be able to contain, and we’ll be trying to slow him down as best we can.”
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