Outcast Australian star given a lifeline by his former Queensland mentor.
Quade Cooper was recalled to the Wallabies squad as new coach Ewen McKenzie ended the ill-fated James O’Connor fly-half experiment for next month’s Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup Tests.
Cooper, who was dumped by former coach Robbie Deans from the recent losing series against the British and Irish Lions, was named in a 40-man training squad in McKenzie’s first selection since taking the job.
Deans persisted with O’Connor at number 10 throughout the 2-1 series loss to the Lions, while incumbent playmaker Cooper was left out of all three Tests.
But McKenzie moved quickly to put his own stamp on the Wallabies set-up, indicating that O’Connor would be viewed as an outside back once again and not as a player closer to the action.
“That is where I see him primarily. I think he can play a bunch of positions,” McKenzie said of O’Connor.
The last of Cooper’s 38 Tests was against Argentina 10 months ago, and since then was regularly overlooked by Deans, falling out of favour with the coach after describing the Wallabies set-up as “toxic”.
McKenzie, who has coached Cooper at Super Rugby level at the Queensland Reds and remains one of the maverick playmaker’s staunchest supporters, said Cooper would not be necessarily rushed back into a Wallabies starting role.
“Everyone talks about Quade but what I am interested in is depth,” he said. “The pecking order might change in a week’s time. I am not fixed on who will start. What I want is pressure on positions.”
Kurtley Beale and Wycliff Palu were not considered for selection because of injury along with long-time regulars David Pocock, Digby Ioane, Pat McCabe and Scott Higginbotham.
Beale is set to undergo shoulder surgery this week and will be out for the remainder of the 2013 season, the Australian Rugby Union said, while Palu will be unavailable during the early stages of the Rugby Championship as he continues rehabilitation from knee surgery.
Lock James Horwill will captain the team, which will be reduced to a final squad of up to 30 players by August 9 ahead of the opening Bledisloe Cup clash with New Zealand on August 17.
The Wallabies will also play South Africa and Argentina in the Rugby Championship series home and away.
The Wallabies training squad:
Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Peter Betham, Quade Cooper, Nick Cummins, Anthony Faingaa, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Mike Harris, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Jesse Mogg, James O’Connor, Nick Phipps, Joe Tomane, Matt Toomua, Nic White.
Forwards: Ben Alexander, Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Saia Faingaa, Scott Fardy, Liam Gill, Michael Hooper, James Horwill, Sekope Kepu, Peter Kimlin, Ben McCalman, Hugh McMeniman, Stephen Moore, Ben Mowen, Tatafu Polota Nau, Hugh Pyle, Benn Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Jake Schatz, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, James Slipper.