x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Australia success against British & Irish Lions means coping with Quade Cooper a must

Quade Cooper has been compared to cricket's Kevin Pietersen and while most of the parallels vary, there is the fact that Cooper's Australia rugby teammates cannot live with him but probably will not win without him. Paul Radley reports.

Quade Cooper, left, is a puzzle that Robbie Deans must sort out if he is to continue as Australia's coach.
Quade Cooper, left, is a puzzle that Robbie Deans must sort out if he is to continue as Australia's coach.

The opposition view of the British & Irish Lions squad announcement this week was one of being underwhelmed and uninspired.

Not much to see here, reckoned the Australians.

All very predictable, they said, and Robbie Deans, the Australia coach, is certain he knows the game plan the tourists will employ, anyway.

Which is handy for the harrowed coach, seeing as he has enough problems to contend with in his own backyard.

History is already against his side, given that the Lions have won 75 per cent of their eight tours to Australia way better than their general success rate of 40 per cent.

You know you are in the midst of a malaise when words like "reintegration" are being bandied around in relation to your leading players.

In his column for a UK newspaper this week, Michael Lynagh, the former Australia fly-half, compared Quade Cooper, the troubled No 10, to Kevin Pietersen, the England batsman.

It seems a neat fit between two players who generally flip flop between maverick genius and bete noire.

The parallels are many and varied, from superficialities like the Maori pe'a on the shoulder, to the fact each was born abroad from the country they represent.

Both do a good line in insurrection, too, often via Twitter. Yet, as with Pietersen, while Cooper's team cannot live with him, in all probability they will not have success without him, either.

"You want to be challenged," Deans said this week of the Cooper issue, which reached its nadir when the firebrand fly-half termed the Wallabies environment "toxic" last year.

The trouble for Deans is that the alternatives hardly make compelling cases. Kurtley Beale, for example, was banned from Super Rugby for a month for punching his own Melbourne Rebels teammates. His own process of reintegration may come with a set of boxing gloves.

James O'Connor, Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano would each provide a safer pair of hands in the crucial role of fly-half than Cooper but a better one?

On evidence gathered to date, probably not.

If Deans is going to earn himself a Wallabies contract extension, he may have to borrow from the method of Ewen McKenzie, Cooper's coach at the Reds, and show him a bit of love.

"If you're looking for the most perfect player in the world, you're not going to get it," McKenzie said after the Cooper-inspired win for the Reds over the champion Chiefs side last month.

"Everyone seems to want to gang up on him, but I'm happy he's in our team."




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