Quade Cooper rides the road to redemption in Japanese rugby return
Wallabies World Cup reject Quade Cooper will return to action with his club side Hanazono Kintetsu Liners in the latest round of Japan Rugby League One.
The 35-year-old – who was a controversial omission from Eddie Jones’s Rugby World Cup squad last year – faces the Peter Hewat-coached Ricoh Black Rams as two sides without a win square off in the round-four clash in Tokyo on Saturday.
Cooper returned from a long-term injury in the nick of time last season to save his club when Kintetsu staved off relegation by beating Israel Folau’s Urayasu D-Rocks in the league’s ‘replacement battle’.
He will combine with his long-time Test halves partner Will Genia against an opponent who also boasts two former Queensland Reds in the shape of backs, Isaac Lucas and Matt McGahan.
Former Wallabies coaches Robbie Deans and Dave Rennie have edgy assignments.
Deans and his unbeaten Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights host his old New Zealand sparring partner Steve Hansen’s Toyota Verblitz at Kumagaya on Saturday.
The pair, whose association goes back to the start of the century when Hansen assisted Deans at the Crusaders, have coached against each other in the international arena, and now in Japan.
Hansen has yet to get the better of his former club boss in Japan but will arrive with a cast that includes All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith, Springboks star Pieter Steph du Toit and Brave Blossoms skipper Kazuki Himeno.
While Deans has left star Wallabies winger Marika Koroibete on the bench, he still has Rugby World Cup-winning South Africa midfielder Damien de Allende in his starting XV, along with 10 members of Japan’s squad from last year’s global showpiece in France.
Rennie’s much improved Kobelco Kobe Steelers, who have won two of their first three, are up against Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, for whom Rennie’s successor with the Wallabies, Eddie Jones, is a long-time adviser.
The ex-Chiefs coach will also face his old skipper from Super Rugby, Sam Cane, with the current All Blacks captain going up against Rugby World Cup teammates Brodie Retallick and Ardie Savea in a Kobe side that also features former New Zealand centre Ngane Laumape.
Sunday is headlined by the clash between defending champions Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay and unbeaten Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo.
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Former Wallaby Bernard Foley’s Kubota have made an unconvincing start to their title defence, dropping two of their first three, while Toshiba have impressed, with All Blacks recruits Shannon Frizell and Richie Mo’unga prominent.