Wallabies five-eighth Quade Cooper’s latest horror show at Eden Park will not cost him a World Cup spot.
The day before Australia’s Bledisloe Cup capitulation to New Zealand, coach Michael Cheika guaranteed Cooper – and his direct competition for the No.10 jersey, Bernard Foley – will be among the 31 players he will name on Friday for next month’s tournament in England and Wales.
But Australia’s playmaking axis remains one of Cheika’s biggest issues as he sorts through the wreckage of Saturday’s 41-13 belting at the hands of the All Blacks.
Externally Cooper has been held as a scapegoat for the loss, with his second-half yellow card costing his side a penalty try before New Zealand crossed twice more while he was off the park.
But before disaster struck, the Wallabies were reasonably effective with him at the helm, showing some good signs across the first 30 minutes.
“I felt we played quite well with the ball we had,” Cooper said.
“Our set piece was under a fair bit of pressure but the boys, we fronted up and the score was quite tight for the majority of that game.”
One player whose stocks have fallen is Matt Toomua, who underwhelmed at inside centre and made some costly errors, while Nic White’s below-par tackling may have been fatal in the context of his three-way battle with Nick Phipps and Will Genia for the two halfbacks Cheika is expected to bring to the World Cup.
Genia should be fit for Australia’s last warm-up game against the United States on September 5, having recovered knee surgery – but whether he is selected is another matter.
He remains Australia’s only bonafide world-class halfback, and intriguingly he sits on 59 caps – one short of the threshold that would allow him to represent the Wallabies from next year, assuming he honours his contract with Stade Francais.
With Phipps also bound for France, Cheika may be moved to gamble on Genia to shore-up Australia’s long-term depth in that position, and rely on Phipps and utility Matt Giteau as back-up – but the risk is Genia hasn’t played for a month.
It’s a fair old dilemma – and that’s just the backs.
Australia’s scrum was easily overpowered by an All Blacks outfit intent on settling the score from the first Bledisloe Test.
Lock Will Skelton had another mixed night, while the Wallabies could have done with David Pocock’s ball-scavenging antics to counter New Zealand’s clear breakdown dominance.
Playing his first Test of the season, No.8 Wycliff Palu was clearly a long way from match fit and Australia could have gained more from the Hooper-Pocock dream team.
Cheika defended Skelton’s performance, but the 204cm monster could find his position under threat with Rob Simmons set to return from a shoulder injury.
Captain Stephen Moore, while bitterly disappointed with the result, warned against throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
“We’ve still done a lot of good things in the last month together,” he said.