‘We want guys who are desperate to be Wallabies’: Rennie reacts as Cooper chooses club over country – Beale, Lolesio return

Quade Cooper is out of the remainder of the Wallabies’ spring tour Tests, with coach Dave Rennie saying it was Cooper’s decision, having “felt compelled” to stay in Japan with his club Kintetsu Liners. Rennie said Wallabies veteran Kurtley Beale would join from Europe while young No.10 Noah Lolesio, left out of the tour initially […]

‘We want guys who are desperate to be Wallabies’: Rennie reacts as Cooper chooses club over country – Beale, Lolesio return

Quade Cooper is out of the remainder of the Wallabies’ spring tour Tests, with coach Dave Rennie saying it was Cooper’s decision, having “felt compelled” to stay in Japan with his club Kintetsu Liners.

Rennie said Wallabies veteran Kurtley Beale would join from Europe while young No.10 Noah Lolesio, left out of the tour initially to train with the Brumbies, is being brought in despite a reluctance to bring in players from Australia.

Cooper joins fellow Japanese-based players Sean McMahon and Samu Kerevi in making themselves unavailable, with a clearly frustrated and “disappointed” Rennie making it clear it was his choice having felt that his club wanted him to stay with them.

Plenty of Wallabies fans will wonder how the three players, all restored to the side this year after long absences, have prioritised clubs over the gold jersey.

“That’s their primary employer, isn’t it?” said Rennie. “Ideally we want guys who are desperate to be Wallabies.

“He’s a good man,” Rennie said of Cooper. “He’s contributed massively on and off the field. He’s torn – he wants to be here. He wants to be a Wallaby, but he feels loyalty to his club.

“He’s made a decision he feels is the right one. He’s made my decision that’s best for him.

“I think if he had the support of the club and the blessing of the club he would have come. But he hasn’t.

“He wanted the blessing of the club, we talked about some flexibility around the tour dates but in the end he felt he needed to be there supporting his club, his employer heading into their season.

“We’ve accepted that and we’ve moved on.

“What this highlights is discussing it with their clubs early would have been important.”

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Rugby Australia’s handling of the situation has come under fire in recent days but Rennie gave his version of events as to how it got to this point.

“I spoke to all those boys when we were on the Gold Coast,” said Rennie. “They said that they had concerns around their clubs, and how the clubs would feel about them travelling in November close to the start of their season.

“But they all assured me they were keen to travel. And so for that reason, we got into negotiations with the clubs.”

Rennie said, however, the three players were not happy for Australia to use regulation nine and “tell the clubs that we’d take them.

“That’s the reason we had multiple zoom meetings to try to sort through the problem and took a bit of flexibility on both parties. In the end we have seen the results. We’re really disappointed.”

By Rennie’s version of events the clubs told Rugby Australia the players could tour.

So, Rennie was asked, did he feel the club’s had coerced the trio into not joining the tour party?

“All I’ll say is the players felt that the clubs wanted them to be there, it was an important period, their experience with the group they’ve got, heading into the preseason. The players felt compelled to stay.”

Rennie said Lolesio would have been in the tour party had Cooper been unvailable when it was named.

Cooper’s starting place will be likely taken over by James O’Connor. “He’s looking good and ready to go,” said Rennie. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”

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The Thursday rugby two-up: What needs fixing this spring?

The Spring Tours are in various states for the southern hemisphere nations right at the moment – one is in progress, one is in a suddenly precarious state, and the other two are yet to begin. With games underway and games played, and even with other games yet to be played, we’ve seen enough of […]

The Thursday rugby two-up: What needs fixing this spring?

The Spring Tours are in various states for the southern hemisphere nations right at the moment – one is in progress, one is in a suddenly precarious state, and the other two are yet to begin.

With games underway and games played, and even with other games yet to be played, we’ve seen enough of our teams to still have concerns, and either enough of other teams or not enough of other teams to be worried by some of the opposition’s key players.

But what can we do about it? And how much time do we have to do it?

In all honestly, there’s not much we can actually do, but talk about it.

And oh, how we can talk about it…

Question 1: What are you most concerned about, regarding your team, for the Tour? What are you seeing that you think needs urgent attention?

Brett
Negotiation methods with Japanese clubs, right at the moment!

When I first posed this question to the panel, I had attacking breakdown in my mind to answer this – and there’s certainly no question that this was an area lacking for the Wallabies last weekend against Japan.

But now that we know that Samu Kerevi definitely won’t play the next three Tests of the tour, the key priority is rebuilding the Wallabies game plan around the players who will now do the job.

On Tuesday in a comment, I said that Dave Rennie had to find “a game plan that plays to Hunter Paisami and the midfield and not require them to play like Kerevi.”

“Paisami obviously isn’t Kerevi, so let him be Paisami,” I said.

(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

Now that Quade Cooper’s involvement is under a significant cloud as well (and the whole ‘he will withdraw’/’he hasn’t told the Wallabies yet’/’informed teammates he isn’t going’ reporting has become rather tabloid and undignified in the last few days, I must say), this point of mine is quickly expanded.

The Wallabies defence was still very good in Oita, so that shouldn’t be affected, but the biggest quandary right now will be to find a method of midfield attack that works to the strengths of the players, and doesn’t force them to play to a plan that worked last month.

So, who are the players fit and available, and what is the best way they can play in a way that will cause issues for Scotland next weekend, first and foremost?

Nobes
There are many things that worry me about Los Pumas for this series and its future in general.

Unlike previous years, the players are scattered in different places and with different realities. A few are in Argentina, several in Premiere League and Top 14, and a few in Italy. The lack of training together and the poor performance at the last Rugby Championship present a huge challenge for Mario Ledesma.

Lack of coordination and quality ball to produce attacks and sequences will be a difficult deficit to improve in this context. The set pieces must make a huge improvement if Los Pumas want to have a chance.

The good thing is that with this low expectation anything positive will be encouraging.

Digger
The All Blacks’ offensive breakdown, and maybe just the ruck in general.

From the set up I have seen so far this season, we expose ourselves and our continuity with ball in hand by not being both accurate enough, nor committing enough numbers.

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This is an area I would dearly love to see some different systems employed by the All Blacks on this tour to address this and a higher output in terms of groundwork across our front eight.

Sides who have really attacked our rucks have caused us plenty of bother and really take the momentum out of our game; it is a key area to be fixed.

Harry
I’m worried about injuries to Springbok locks.

It wasn’t long ago we had five top-class locks in the 23: rugged, upskilled Eben Etzebeth, phenom Pieter-Steph du Toit, the happy giant Lood de Jager, super athlete RG Snyman, and the indefatigable Franco Mostert.

And now there are three. We can’t afford to lose another one.

All three have played big minutes in 2021 in big matches. I would rest EE and Lood against Scotland.

Eben Etzebeth

Does Eben Etzebeth need a rest? (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

Geoff
With respect to the Wallabies, has our esteemed panel chief ever before posed such a timely question? Since dealing with the Brave Blossoms, things have turned sharply downhill for the Wallabies, and “concern” and “urgent attention” are indeed the order or the day.

Finding a 10, 12 and 15 and cover off the bench has suddenly become paramount. A debrief and new strategy on how to best balance all of the nuances around overseas player selection and availability will no doubt follow.

For the All Blacks there remains a concern that the balance between physical confrontation and swift ball movement isn’t quite set in the right position. That shouldn’t be a problem over the next fortnight, but Ireland and France will demand that the All Blacks pay due respect to the way their opponent plays, as well as their own style of play.

Question 2: And which one player are you most worried about among your team’s opposition this Tour?

Brett
Like the first question, I had someone in mind straight away when posing this question, too. But I don’t need to change to someone else this time.

And watching highlights reels of what Finn Russell is doing with Racing 92 in France at the moment does nothing to ease these concerns. He was really good in the final Lions Test in South Africa, to the point that more than a few ‘The Lions would have won the series if Russell played from the start’ articles out there on the interwebs.

If he can quickly jell with countrymen, the Scots will be a handful in attack. In many ways, it will be a huge shame if indeed Cooper doesn’t make the trip to the UK, because they certainly strike as similarly minded players in pretty solid form right at the moment.

But, if there’s a plus side to knowing how Russell plays and how to stop he and the Scots in attack, the Wallabies do have one ace up their sleeve: Scotland’s former defence coach, Matt Taylor, now does the Wallabies’ defensive planning.

Nobes
Antoine Dupont is the scrumhalf of the moment and he seems unstoppable.

This player is one of the adversaries’ worst nightmare with his outbursts and always being in support throughout the court, is definitely the man Los Pumas should neutralise. Easier said than done.

Digger
As I have clearly been made aware that I can only select one player, it would have to be Antoine Dupont.

I personally do not take in a lot from the Northern competitions and given the fanfare around this chap, I am really looking forward to watching him play against New Zealand and an obvious big threat.

(Marcus Smith would be the other bloke but as NZ are not playing England than I haven’t broken any rules around numbers of nominated players – just saying, clear loophole in the laws.)

Harry
I will keep a close eye on Welsh wings, but in particular, Josh Adams.

He’s a clever slider in tight spaces, is a serious finisher, and backs himself. Lukhanyo Am and Sbu Nkosi will need to be a blanket.

Geoff
With the loss of Samu Kerevi and subsequent uncertainty around midfield combinations, Manu Tuilagi shapes as a potential troublemaker for the Wallabies, when they reach Twickenham.

The obvious fly in the ointment for the All Blacks is French halfback Antoine Dupont. An already great player currently at the top of his form, the All Blacks will need to ensure they slow the France’s ball down and tackle surely, to deny him opportunities on the back-up.

It’s a real shame that Aaron Smith isn’t on tour, denying fans a juicy, heavyweight match-up.

OVER TO YOU: What most concerns you around your team and the Spring Tour?

And which one opposition player are you most worried about?

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