A bemused Michael Cheika has defended his decision to persist with mercurial playmaker Quade Cooper at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Cheika’s gamble to pick the polarising No.10 in last weekend’s Bledisloe Cup decider proved a disaster with Cooper shouldering plenty of blame for the hammering at the hands of the All Blacks.
Former coach Robbie Deans’s similarly stubborn persistence with the enigmatic No.10 backfired spectacularly at the last World Cup.
The Kiwi-born playmaker embraced his villain status as New Zealand’s “public enemy No.1”, Cooper’s meltdown ultimately costing the Wallabies in their semi-final exit against the All Blacks.
After placing a media ban on Cooper at the Wallabies’ 31-man squad announcement on Friday, Cheika leapt to the five-eighth’s defence.
“I don’t know why people are quizzing that selection. He’s been a long-time player for Australia and I think he’s done well for us,” Cheika said.
“He can obviously improve like all our players can.
“I think it’s just an easy stereotype to have a crack at him.
“As a coach, I evaluate what’s in the game, not what’s written or tweeted or whatever.
“We see some improvements we can make in him over the next few weeks that will get him playing better in our system.
“I’m really comfortable with selecting him and I don’t think there was a question on it.”
The 55-Test veteran Cooper is one of two specialist five-eighths in the squad along with Bernard Foley, while Cheika has Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale and Matt Giteau who can all play No.10.
Cooper’s second-half sin-binning last Saturday night all but ensured the Bledisloe Cup stayed with New Zealand.
He was shown a yellow card – for the second time of the Wallabies’ winter campaign – in the 48th minute for a high shot on All Black Aaron Smith as the halfback was set to score a try.
A penalty try was awarded which gave the Kiwis their second five-pointer of the night before they crossed twice more while Cooper was in the bin.
The Queensland Reds’ star copped a hammering from fans at Eden Park, continuing his frosty relationship with New Zealand crowds who booed him mercilessly during the 2011 World Cup due to his run-ins with All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw.