Rugby News: Quade thinks Wallabies days are over, tug-of-war looms in Aussie rugby over talent, Boks snap up gun Kiwi coach
Quade Cooper hasn’t shut the book on pulling on the gold jersey again, but the veteran playmaker admits the chances of another Wallabies call-up are remote.
Having resurrected his international career in 2021 under Dave Rennie, the 35-year-old was arguably the biggest omission from Eddie Jones’ World Cup squad last year.
After starting in the opening two Rugby Championship fixtures against the Springboks and Los Pumas, Jones started rookie Carter Gordon and demoted Cooper to the bench for the remaining two Bledisloe fixtures.
Then he pulled the biggest surprise of all, leaving out Cooper for the World Cup in France as he went all-in on youth by selecting Gordon alongside second-year international Ben Donaldson as his two playmakers.
Getting the sense he was about to be left out of the World Cup squad, Cooper opted not to answer Jones’ phone call.
The former Super Rugby winner instead buried his head in the sand, before breaking his silence following Jones’ sensational decision to walk away and re-join Japan.
“It’s an interesting thing. Coaches ask a lot of players. I sat in on meetings and the coaches asked players to show loyalty for the country. It’s quite a tough pill to swallow when you see some of the things that have transpired over the past few months,” Cooper told the Herald in December.
“Players get one opportunity to play for Australia. I can’t change allegiances tomorrow if I wanted to. That’s an interesting aspect of a coach. It’s basically a merry-go-round.
“I just feel for the players. It’s the players who always draw the short straw. There was a lot asked of the players and put to us about our commitment to Australia and the cause of the World Cup.”
Jones, meanwhile, explained that he believed Australian rugby needed to look to the future.
“The situation reminded me of when Wayne Bannett let Wally Lewis go. No one could quite understand why, but Wally Lewis wasn’t a great role model for the rest of the team,” Jones told Herald.
“And for those guys, I don’t think they were the right role models for the team going forward. Don’t get me wrong. They’re not bad guys.
“But you need guys – particularly when you’ve got a team like Australia has at the moment – you need guys who are obsessed with winning, obsessed with being good, and those three are past those stages.”
Jones’ decision to walk away from the Wallabies head coaching role means that a door could still be open for Cooper.
But even though new Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt was a great admirer of Johnny Sexton, who called time on his playing career as a 38-year-old following last year’s World Cup, the New Zealander said it was his preference to select players for the national side who were based in Australia.
“There was nothing really stopping overseas selections in Ireland, but I know because they’re so close to Europe, that would have been really detrimental to the Irish domestic competition,” Schmidt told reporters in Sydney at his unveiling as Wallabies coach.
“It’s a very competitive market in Europe. So we didn’t select anyone who wasn’t contracted in Ireland, and that worked really well for Ireland.
“I’d be great if we can select almost entirely [from] Australia … rather than chase guys from overseas.”
Yet, Rugby Australia boss Phil Waugh has regularly said the Wallabies need to get back to the here and now rather than looking ahead to World Cups.
Schmidt, too, is seemingly aligned to that approach, saying on Ireland’s Off the Ball program following their 2019 World Cup exit too much focus was put on the tournament.
“The thing that I would definitely steer away from next time in the lead up to a World Cup is trying to focus on a World Cup a year out,” Schmidt said.
“There’s too much emphasis on the World Cup already. Our bread and butter is all around the Six Nations and I love the Six Nations.”
Whether Schmidt believes Cooper, who is based in Japan and playing for the Kintetsu Liners, can play a part in helping the Wallabies remains to be seen.
But the 80 Test veteran, who made his debut against Italy in 2008, thinks he’s unlikely to earn a call-up.
“I’ll probably say no,” Cooper said on Instagram.
“It’s not that I wouldn’t want to; it’s more new coaches and stuff like that. I’m getting older, but you just never know.”
Battle for Brumbies flyer
A tug-of-war could be brewing in Australian rugby, with national men’s sevens coach John Manenti calling on the country’s Super Rugby franchises to play their part in the side’s bid to win gold at the Paris Olympics.
While Australia’s men’s side joined their female colleagues in the final of the Perth Sevens over the weekend for the second straight tournament, Manenti said he was denied the chance to call in Brumbies flyer Corey Toole.
It wasn’t all bad news for Manenti, with the experienced coach able to call up Rebels recruit Darby Lancaster, who made his mark previously with the sevens team, but the Australian coach added the nation could benefit from the flexibility of the Super Rugby franchises.
“The Brumbies are keen to obviously have him and he’d like to push at the Wallabies,” Manenti said.
“So I dare say until the end of the Super season, we unfortunately won’t get a chance to look at him like Darby. But we’ve got a bit of time post Super – if he’s not picked for the Wallabies – to give him some exposure. It’s not the end of the world but it’s obviously not our perfect plan.
“Understandably the Super clubs have got to be on board with it and they’re all under their own pressures with different things. They’re pretty keen to hold their players tight.
“But Darby Lancaster could have been training down at Melbourne or he’s come here and played in front of 20,000 people and expressed himself and got great experience in rugby. It would have been brilliant to see Corey getting the same opportunity because you can’t replicate matches, you can’t replicate game pressure.
“All the same skills are on show (in sevens), probably just heightened with the speed and the intensity and the space. In a perfect world we’d have a bit more understanding from the franchises but I do understand they’ve all got their own patch of turf to defend.”
Like the past two Olympic campaigns, countries are looking to inject more quality in their programs with French star Antoine Dupont standing down from the Six Nations to prepare for the home Games.
Rassie snaps up New Zealand coaching guru
The Springboks might have lost Jacques Nienaber, but the back-to-back world champions are set to bring on one of the smartest rugby brains in the world with Tony Brown to join Rassie Erasmus.
South African newspaper Rapport broke the news that Brown, who was an assistant with Japan for the past two World Cups, was being lined up to join the Springboks.
An announcement is likely to come by week’s end.
Brown, a former All Blacks playmaker, played a crucial part in the Highlanders winning their maiden Super Rugby title in 2015.
He then joined Jamie Joseph’s team with Japan, where the Brave Blossoms would reach the 2019 World Cup quarter-finals.
But Joseph’s decision to step down as Japan’s coach following the World Cup, as well as the return of Australian Eddie Jones, has seen Brown step away.
Brown was previously headhunted by former All Blacks coach Ian Foster and incoming coach Scott Robertson about joining their ticket following Steve Hansen’s decision to stand down following the 2019 World Cup.
Smith injury leaves England with selection headache
England’s Six Nations preparations have hit a speed bump, with Harlequins playmaker Marcus Smith seen on crutches just days out from their opener against Italy.
Following Owen Farrell’s decision to stand down from international duties, the 24-year-old was a leading contender to start in the absence of the former captain.
But those plans could well be torn up following the news of Smith limping away from training on Monday.
Reporters with the England camp said Smith was undergo a scan on his leg injury.
If he is not [fit] it would definitely be a blow,” England attack coach Richard Wigglesworth said.
“It wasn’t a big incident, that’s why I was hoping it was nothing much. He was just jogging, but he pulled up and happened to be right next to a physio when he did it by the sideline.”
The revelation leaves George Ford in the box seat to wear the No.10 jersey, but it could also see in-form Northampton playmaker Fin Smith handed a debut.
Ford, too, has been battling a knee-injury himself despite turning against La Rochelle. But interestingly, the experienced playmaker relinquished the goal-kicking duties.