x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Captains always in the spotlight during British & Irish Lions tour

Quade Cooper loses his edge for the Queensland Reds while Sam Warburton of the British & Irish Lions is a non-factor, writes Paul Radley.

Lions captain Sam Warburton, left, is tackled by Reds skipper Quade Cooper, centre, during Saturday’s match in Brisbane. Patrick Hamilton / AFP
Lions captain Sam Warburton, left, is tackled by Reds skipper Quade Cooper, centre, during Saturday’s match in Brisbane. Patrick Hamilton / AFP

Quade Cooper nearly had everyone convinced he was a changed man. So reformed is he, he has even mastered the art of the empty post-match platitude.

"We got very close, our defence was outstanding, as was the effort and the attitude the boy showed, so credit to our team," the Australian rugby union bad boy-turned Queensland Reds captain for the day said in his post-match television interview on Saturday.

"Very happy with the way I went and the way our team went. We have a good outfit. We are not happy about losing but the effort we showed was great."

What, no constrictive team environment? No toxic edicts from above? What about me, myself and Irene? Boring.

Cooper is not your archetypal captain. When it comes to thinking clearly under pressure, he usually assesses the options, works out what the percentages favour, then does exactly the opposite.

It was mainly for that reason the British & Irish Lions were given the runaround for much of their 22-12 victory over the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday.

Cooper is tougher to read than Ulysses, but that is equally applicable to his teammates as for opposition defenders.

For every miss-out pass sent spiralling halfway across the pitch straight into the grasp of a well-positioned colleague, there would be a no-look pass to nobody in particular. The Lions should have scored a try in the first half from one pass he threw went to ground.

His style of play may well be a breath of fresh air but it is not likely to win him back his Australia Test jersey any time soon.

Neither of Saturday's captains at Suncorp Stadium exactly fits the usual job description.

While Cooper the captain is a poacher turned gamekeeper, Sam Warburton just seems reluctant, on account of the fact a captain is expected to be a ready communicator.

Warburton, playing his first game on tour for the Lions, prefers to let his actions do the talking. Which can be problematic if you mess up.

Lions captains are supposed to be shoo-ins for the Test team, but Warburton is hardly that at present.

The Welshman's quiet display in the red No 7 shirt Saturday was some way short of the excellence showed previously by Justin Tipuric and Sean O'Brien.

He let Luke Morahan slip through his grasp on the way to the stunning opening try, too.

Maybe he will have to rely on Churchillian speeches to secure his place in the Test XV, after all. That would go against the grain for a player who missed the first school rugby match he was ever supposed to play in having gone Awol because he was too nervous.

At least he would do the talking, though. You can imagine Cooper would tweet his pep talk to his teammates and tag a picture of a peanut-butter sandwich at the same time. Clearly rugby, and captaincy, takes all sorts.

pradley@thenational.ae

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