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Why Quade Cooper is the man to take down the All Blacks, not Carter

By Finn Morton
(Photos by Jason McCawley/Getty Images and PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP via Getty Images)

By the end of Saturday night’s thrilling Test between the Wallabies and Pumas in Sydney, legendary coach Eddie Jones had “probably ruined three radios.” The frustration of another loss was felt throughout the stadium.

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The Wallabies had fallen to their second loss in as many starts under coach Jones, and with just three more matches before the World Cup, it might already be time to panic.

But Jones was doing no such thing as he walked into the post-match press conference with a charismatic grin on his face. The 63-year-old sat down and said, “Alright, who’d like to start?”

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Eddie was in control.

Jones didn’t make a single excuse for the Wallabies’ 31-34 loss to Los Pumas during the next 14 minutes. What happened, had happened – there was no changing that.

But Jones, who was of course heartbroken and disappointed along with his players, was surprisingly confident ahead of a date with the All Blacks in Melbourne.

New Zealand had beaten fierce rivals South Africa 35-20 in Auckland earlier that night. It was one of their best performances under current coach Ian Foster.

Australia and New Zealand appear to be on two very different rugby trajectories at the moment, but Jones still warned the All Blacks to “look out” ahead of Bledisloe I at the MCG.

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Jones is full of confidence.

Changes will be made, I’m sure, but there’s one player who needs to hold his place in the starting side.

That player is Quade Cooper.

Cooper has come under fire following two disappointing individual performances in the famous gold jersey. After returning to the national setup, the veteran has failed to make his mark.

“The Wallabies will look at the Bledisloe Cup and see they can completely turn their season around in one game,” former All Black Jeff Wilson said on Sky Sport’s The Breakdown.

“Eddie will know that they’ll still find a way to get confidence even though they’ve lost two games.

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“I still can’t understand why is Quade Cooper running this team because he’s not delivering.

“We know he doesn’t deliver against the All Blacks. How can he be wearing the No. 10 jersey in two weeks’ time? Seriously?”

In American sports, no one position is more important to a team’s success than the quarterback in the NFL.

Retired great Tom Brady, Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes, and Philly Eagles QB Jalen Hurts were some of the most talked about players in the NFL last year for good reason.

The performances of all three players week-to-week dictated how the team went during the gruelling campaign. Brady struggled, and so did Tampa Bay. As for the other two, both Mahomes and Hurts were competing for MVP honours.

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In rugby union, the flyhalf is the quarterback. If the playmaker struggles to make an impact or goes missing for long periods, then success will prove hard to come by.

Just look at Quade Cooper and the Wallabies.

Over the last couple of weeks, Cooper has been a shadow of his former self in the No. 10 jersey. Given the keys to the Wallabies’ attack, the 35-year-old has only registered a single try assist.

But keep in mind, the injury to Len Ikitau forced a tough backline reshuffle against Argentina. Cooper remained at 10, while Carter Gordon was brought on at inside centre – and paired up alongside world-class midfielder Samu Kerevi.

On paper, the three players bring an exciting mix of talent, youth and experience to the table. But rugby isn’t played on paper.

The entire struggled to develop some consistency – but more on that later.

Meanwhile – and if you buy into the idea that new is always better, then keep reading – rising star Carter Gordon has been a shining light for the Aussies off the bench.

Gordon scored on debut against the Springboks in Pretoria, and the 22-year-old almost crossed for another against Los Pumas on Saturday. The kid can play, and Wallabies fans know it.

If Gordon is a shiny new Ferrari, then Cooper has taken the form of a Toyota Camry. Australian rugby fans want Eddie Jones to take the sports car out for a spin in Bledisloe I.

But slow down.

The Wallabies have bought into the idea that ‘new is always better’ before, and it’s gone horribly wrong. Unfortunately, at least at the moment, there’s no better example than Noah Lolesio.

At just 20 years of age, Lolesio was thrust into the Test arena against the All Blacks in Sydney. The flyhalf did an admirable job for a while but ran out of fuel far too soon.

Over the course of a few years, Lolesio – who was once loved like a shiny new sports car, much like Gordon – began to fade away.

Lolesio was recently omitted from both Jones’ Wallabies squad and the Australian A side. The playmaker has also opted to sign a ‘joker’ deal with French heavyweights Toulon during the World Cup.

The moral of that story is that new is not always better – at least not in rugby. Young playmakers need to be given an opportunity to ease their way into the international game, and can’t be given the attacking reins right away.

Gordon also made some poor defensive reads against Argentina which led to some significant linebreaks. Off the top of my head, there were at least two or three instances where things didn’t go to plan in defence.

But his highlight reel, which consists of a big tackle and nearly a breathtaking try against Los Pumas, wouldn’t show that. As rugby fans, don’t get lost in the glimmer of the Ferrari.

Gordon still has plenty to learn – of course he does, the playmaker has only played two Tests – but that hasn’t stopped some rugby fans from calling for the young star’s selection in the 10 jersey.

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So, with Bledisloe I rapidly approaching, and of course the World Cup nigh on the horizon, Jones has a big decision to make: Cooper or Gordon.

The old or new.

This decision could potentially define their World Cup campaign.

While the temptation might be there to hand Gordon his first start as a Wallaby, this could spell disaster in the long run. Carter Gordon has a bright future in the No. 10 jersey for the Wallabies, but that shouldn’t start today.

As for Cooper, the flyhalf needs to perform at a Wallaby level – a new standard must be set. But experience is invaluable.

Continue to doubt Cooper if you must, but the Super Rugby champion has shown time and time again that he can perform on the biggest stage. Remember, he only just came back from a fairly significant injury.

The Wallabies’ best chance of winning back the Bledisloe is by starting Cooper.

Eddie, keep the Ferrari in the garage – at least for now.

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17 Comments
S
Steve 360 days ago

Cooper's 'pretend tackles' and 'blind' flick passes seal it for me. I'd try anyone before I would pick QC. His knee to Richie McCaw's head summed up a perception of his character and it saddened me.
Lolesio showed a glimpse of similar character when he scored a try against the Rebels and screamed out Carter Gordon's name in this last Super Rugby season.
But I have to say that picking CG for Bled 1 is indeed a brave move. I don't think there'll be any harm done. I can't see us beating the AB's while we have 15 individuals on the field. To beat the AB's you need a TEAM. Perhaps CG will contribute to a team effort. We shall see.
Who will do the kicking? 🏉

N
Northandsouth 366 days ago

"Cooper has shown time and time again he can perform on the big stage". When? Provide a list of the big tests against big nations QC has been a difference maker in across his career - please. That one against SA a couple of years back in Aus where they have a poor record. Just announcing it doesn't make it true. He has literally never had a strong test against NZ and time and time again he has been at best just okay against top 3-4 nations. I agree that new is not always better but can see no compelling rationale for Quade here beyond him not being the green option.

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Tony 366 days ago

QC - Of all the Teams to start him against I wld think the AB's wld be bottom of that list -

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Ardy 366 days ago

no problems with the article but history has a way of making fools of us all. Your post: The moral of that story is that new is not always better – at least not in rugby. Young playmakers need to be given an opportunity to ease their way into the international game, and can’t be given the attacking reins right away._

Quade was 22 when he first played 10 for Australia. He had played 12 in the previous international games age 21.

Under that idea we would not have had Horan and Little one still 18 and the other 19.

All the same, I prefer him to start the game with Gordon coming on. I do not want Gordon stuck in 13 or 15 to solve a problem when our biggest problem is the next 10.

F
Francisco 366 days ago

Great focus Finn...! My reading says that Gordon is an excellent player, but he needs to hone his concentration and minimize driving errors along with the small advantages he offers on defense. I really liked watching it vs RSA.

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GrahamVF 366 days ago

As a South African I really hope they sideline QC. I know who I'd like to play against as the Aussie No 10 in a WC final and it ain't QC.

M
MitchO 367 days ago

Cooper was not given the keys to attack the Boks

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Forward pass 367 days ago

How many games v the ABs has QC won?

C
CRZ38L 367 days ago

Comparing Lolesio to Gordon is probably not ideal. Both are totally different players, and the defensive lapses he had; well he was thrust into a position he's probably not played in a lot before and that was due more to a brain fart from Jones to go with a 6/2 bench.

As for goal kicking if Gordon starts, Nic White can take on those duties if need be.

My feeling, Wallabies aren't going to win the Bledisloe, so give Gordon as much time in the 10 jersey as possible and Cooper can come off the bench if needed.

W
Wombatz 367 days ago

I'm a big fan of Gordon, but the obvious question which no-one seems to discuss is whether he can kick for goal. He didn't do so for the Rebels (I don't think) and Quade has been very reliable there. Who would take the kicks?

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Shaylen 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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