Quade Cooper unfairly takes the blame as All Blacks bounce back

‘Cooper Blooper’ headlines dominate as Aussie media call for outhalf’s head

Quade Cooper  takes a high ball at Eden Park. Photograph: Getty Images

Quade Cooper takes a high ball at Eden Park. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Casting Quade Cooper as villain of the piece is the easiest gig in Australian sports journalism in the wake of the Wallabies’ 41-13 Bledisloe Cup Test loss to the All Blacks on Saturday night. The ‘Cooper Blooper’ headlines are everywhere, the calls for his head bordering on hysterical. And all of it totally unjustified.

In fact, a grave injustice is taking place. Cooper, for all his previous mishaps against the All Blacks, did not cost the Wallabies the match on Saturday night. The real culprit hasn’t even been mentioned. And, ironically, it’s the man many feel should replace Cooper at outhalf: Matt Toomua.

It was easy to jump on the Cooper blame bandwagon in the hours immediately after the match. On first take, he looked the prime suspect with a couple of early handling errors followed up with a game-defining yellow card for a high shot on New Zealand halfback Aaron Smith, which resulted in a penalty try.

The All Blacks scored two further tries with Cooper in the bin, effectively ending the contest with the score blowing out from 13-6 prior to Cooper’s send off to 34-6 during his 10-minute sidelining. Wallabies coach Michael Cheika’s decision to end Cooper’s night and not send him back once the sinbin clock expired added further weight to the view the outhalf was responsible for the carnage.

However, like one of those mystery thrillers where the detective gleans a vital new clue by looking at old CCTV footage one more time, a review of the match video reveals what really happened, and why Cooper is not to blame.

Let’s start with Cooper’s yellow card for his high shot on Smith. Cooper was trying to save a try. It was a desperate act by a player committed to his team. The man Cooper clobbered, Smith, did exactly the same thing when he was yellow carded for taking Adam Ashley-Cooper high in the first Bledisloe Cup Test/Rugby Championship decider in Sydney last week.

Was Cooper’s tackle worth a penalty try? That depends if you’re convinced Smith would have scored were it not for Cooper’s tackle. The more important question, however, is how did Smith find himself in a try-scoring position? And that’s where Matt Toomua comes into frame as the real villain with a poor kick to Julian Savea directly leading to the try.

An incisive run by Conrad Smith and brilliant footwork by Nehe Milner-Skudder created the opportunity for Aaron Smith. Cooper was mopping up Toomua’s rubbish when tackling Smith.

It was a costly mistake by Toomua. To be just 13-6 down against the All Blacks at Eden Park - where they haven’t lost since 1986 - with 33 minutes to play was an ideal position for the Wallabies to be in, especially given the recent fast-finishing form of the Australian bench. Down 20-6 with a man down was hardly ideal but too soon people forget the Wallabies won in Sydney last week playing with 14 men for 20 minutes with Sekope Kepu binned in the seventh minute and Nick Phipps in the 55th. To suggest Cooper’s absence in itself is to blame for what happened in Auckland is incorrect and unfair. His team-mates just managed the sinbinning very poorly, with dud kicking by Toomua at the forefront of blunders in a six-minute period where the match was effectively killed off as a contest.

The real killer moment came off Toomua’s boot in the 49th minute, two minutes after Cooper’s binning, when he kicked aimlessly to Milner-Skudder (him again) who showed great vision to kick back into space where there was no full-back (Israel Folau was up in the line, no doubt expecting Toomua to keep ball in hand as much as possible when a man down). One ruck later and Ma’a Nonu was in. In a flash, from 13-6 to 27-6. Game over. Who’s to blame - Cooper or Toomua? The footage doesn’t lie. Indeed, Cooper can rest easy during Cheika’s video review session this week. Toomua, on the other hand, should be worried.

All the chatter pre- and post-match has been on Chieka rolling the dice with his selection, one that cut six players from the Sydney winning team no less. There was nothing wrong with the selection of Cooper. It certainly didn’t backfire as per the reasons stated above. However, there would have been one significant lesson for Cheika from Auckland: Australia must never again start a big match without David Pocock in the starting line-up. The All Blacks’ confidence grew off the back of ruck dominance in the first half. It was all one-way traffic. Pocock would have stemmed the black tide at the breakdown. In terms of selection, Cheika is in many ways back where he started before the Rugby Championship: Pocock or Hooper? He tried both, which worked a treat in Sydney, but if there is to be just one, then it’s now clear it can only be Pocock.

On a final note, true rugby fans irrespective of who they support would have been delighted to see Dan Carter back in form. He was peerless, regal and majestic in all his touches. Rugby is far better off when Carter plays like he did in Auckland. He will be sorely missed next year. And so too will that great man Richie McCaw who is now the most capped rugby player of all time. What a colossus he is, the greatest rugby player of all time. Period.

Guardian Service

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.