Wallabies coach throws down the challenge to troubled playmaker.
Coach Robbie Deans has challenged playmaker Quade Cooper to assert himself in his tour game against the British and Irish Lions if he wants to play for the Wallabies in next month’s three-Test series.
The maverick fly-half, who clashed with Deans over his coaching style last year, was left out of a 25-man initial Wallaby squad on Sunday for the Lions series, but Deans said a further six players were to be added to the final squad on June 10.
Deans said the door was still open for Cooper to force his way back into the Wallabies squad with a strong tour outing for the Queensland Reds against the Lions in Brisbane on June 8.
Cooper was fined $60,000 and banned for three games last October for his criticism of the Wallabies’ so-called “toxic” culture. He lashed out on social media at the environment within the national squad and the defensive style of Deans.
But Deans brushed aside suggestions that Cooper remained on the outer for that outburst as he named James O’Connor as his preferred fly-half to face the Lions.
“We all know Quade’s history in the group and I’ve selected him on 38 occasions so he’s had a lot of faith and support from me, that’s not an issue and to suggest otherwise is nonsense,” Deans told a news conference.
Asked what Cooper needed to do to force his way back, Deans said he had to be more assertive in his rugby.
“Test rugby is another level up from super rugby and we would like to see Quade defend in the front line,” he said.
“We would like to see him assert himself physically in the (Reds-Lions) game because it’s an element you can’t avoid at Test level.
“He’s got a great opportunity to do that and hopefully dent the Lions’ belief at the same playing for the Reds.
“Assertiveness is both ways in attack and defence. That’s what we would like to see in that outing.”
Deans went on to outline the strengths in O’Connor’s game that influenced his selection.
“We believe he caters for our need. The last time he played for us and obviously he wasn’t available at any stage last year, he played at number 10 against Wales at the end of 2011 and did a very good job,” the coach said.
“In the outings he’s had he’s got the components we are looking for.
“He’s clearly a bloke who traumatises defences, he keeps the attack very square, which provides opportunities for the channels (runners) around him.”
Deans said injuries to Australia’s fly-half options – O’Connor, Cooper, Kurtley Beale and Berrick Barnes – had hampered a consistent selection policy in the key playmaking position.
“None of our five-eighths (fly-halves) have had consistent time at international level in the last couple of years and that’s been frustrating for us,” he said.
“But the great thing is we have a number who are capable of playing at that level and it’s just a matter of identifying the ones who will serve the team needs best.
“In the first instance James has got that opportunity.”