British and Irish coaches believe the Australians are playing mind games ahead of tour.
British and Irish Lions defence coach Andy Farrell said he was puzzled at Quade Cooper’s omission from Australia’s squad and wondered if the Wallabies were playing “mind games’ with their star flyhalf.
Farrell said Australia may be trying to motivate Cooper to fight for his place after he was left off the initial list of 25 players for the three-Test series against the Lions.
“Who knows what’s going on?” Farrell told reporters in Hong Kong, ahead of Saturday’s tour opener against the Barbarians.
“We don’t know whether it’s mind games that they’re playing with Cooper, but he seems to be playing pretty well to me.”
Australia’s decision to overlook Cooper was the major talking point of their squad announcement and left the tourists guessing about whether they would be facing the Queensland Reds pivot or James O’Connor of the Melbourne Rebels.
The move follows internal ructions after Cooper was fined and suspended last year for criticising coach Robbie Deans and complaining of a “toxic” atmosphere within the Wallabies set-up. Their full squad will be announced on June 11.
Cooper and O’Connor will go head-to-head later on Saturday when their teams clash in Brisbane in the Super 15.
“I think you’ve got two fantastic players. O’Connor? Coming back from injury but he’s a threat who can run the game. Quade Cooper? I think he’s playing some fantastic rugby at this moment in time,” said Farrell.
“Whoever starts at 10 will be a threat, there’s no doubt about that.”
The Lions’ New Zealand-born winger Sean Maitland, who is Cooper’s cousin, said the two were frequently in touch and admitted the Australia player was “a little disappointed” to be left out.
“He (Cooper) was a little disappointed, but he can do his talking on the field, which is what he has been doing,” said Maitland.
“He’s been playing awesome and I’m sure that for one of those six spots still to be filled for the Wallabies he’ll be right in the mix.”
The rugby-mad cousins grew up together and played for the same junior team in the New Zealand town of Tokoroa from the age of six.
Cooper left for Australia in his teens, whereas Maitland made his move only last year but soon won a first Scotland cap after qualifying on heritage grounds.
The kilted Kiwi admitted he was amazed to have become a Lion so soon after.
“It’s been a crazy six or seven months,” Maitland said. “Who’d have thought when I left New Zealand I’d be representing the British and Irish Lions?”