Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is toying with the idea of turning to Quade Cooper as his playmaker for Australia’s Rugby Championship opener against the All Blacks.
While Bernard Foley remains favourite to retain the No.10 jersey for the Sydney showdown on Saturday week, the Wallabies’ plans to use more tactical kicking in a bid to unsettle the world champions has raised the intriguing prospect of Cooper earning a surprise recall.
Kiwi-born Cooper has endured a tumultuous career against the All Blacks, infamously dubbed New Zealand’s “Public Enemy No.1” before flopping in Australia’s World Cup semi-final loss at Eden Park in 2011.
But the enigmatic star is also the only player in the past decade to start at five-eighth in two Wallabies victories over the All Blacks, having piloted Australia to wins in Hong Kong in 2010 and Brisbane the following year.
Tellingly, Foley on Thursday revealed the Wallabies’ plans to adopt a similar approach to that which served Queensland so well during their charge to the 2011 Super Rugby title.
Back then, it was Cooper and halfback Will Genia calling the shots for both the Reds and Wallabies and while mixing and matching his backlines in opposed training sessions over the past week Cheika has again teamed the pair up.
“It’s been exciting,” Foley said of the Wallabies’ added focus on tactical kicking.
“You look at the Reds when they won the (Super Rugby) competition back in 2011 how well they utilised their kicking game. They were very efficient and very smart with it.
“So for us we’re looking at having a balanced game plan where we can challenge defences through our kicks, through our runs and also when our passing game’s on.”
Asked how confident he was of starting at five-eighth for the Bledisloe Cup opener at ANZ Stadium, Foley said: “You can’t be confident of anything at the moment.”
“It’s just been really good to be in camp here and to have one focus. It was quite disappointing the last time we were together.”
Last Friday in Sydney, Cheika ran Matt Giteau as his second playmaker outside Cooper and Genia, coincidentally – or perhaps not – the same trio that enjoyed success against the All Blacks in Hong Kong some six years ago.
With Cheika playing his selection cards close to his chest, the only certainty appears to be the Wallabies’ intent to ditch their all-out running game.
“The game plan (previously) has been steered towards being more attacking with ball in hand. Now we know that that’s not always effective in Test-match rugby and we have to find ways to win games,” Foley said.
“We see the kicking game as a way to challenge defences differently and maybe just something they don’t expect us to do.
“We’re just looking to have variation in our game. Teams probably were able to just defend our running game and our attacking game pretty easily last time we played.”