Australian coach Andy Friend has stressed throwing Quade Cooper into the sevens’ deep end would have disrespected his regular campaigners and sacrificed Sydney 7s success.
In his first tournament in charge of the Thunderbolts, Friend has caused an outcry by overlooking the Wallabies showman after he flew from France expressly to make his sevens debut.
But Cooper was told once he stepped off the plane, a week late, on Wednesday morning he was next to no chance of playing due to a limited preparation which put undue risk on his body.
Friend also reasoned just one full training session with his new team was not enough to ensure the 58-Test playmaker, as talented as he is, would add value to the hard-scrapping Australians.
“We’ve got a lot of young blokes here who have worked their backsides off,” he said on Friday.
“The last thing I want to do is to come in and say I’m not respecting that by throwing a player in with three days’ preparation.
“We could have picked 11 players and Quade and used Quade very sparingly, but that puts a lot of pressure on the other 11 players.”
His surprise decision has been backed by two of the most respected and influential voices on the world sevens circuit – New Zealand coach Sir Gordon Tietjens and Fiji coach Ben Ryan.
Englishman Ryan said Cooper wouldn’t have been ready without a full preparation and Australia would have been “blown out of the water” by picking on reputation.
But former Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock spoken for plenty of rugby fans by saying it was “crazy” to exclude Cooper after he flew across the globe and fears he’ll run out of time to make the Rio Olympics.
“I just can’t believe it,” Mortlock told AAP. “He’s a world-class player in any format – and an elite athlete – so why not just give him a go?”
“It also puts a massive dent in his selection chances for Rio.”
Mortlock’s bewilderment follows another ex-Wallabies skipper’s criticism, with Mark Ella saying Cooper ought to get straight back on the plane back to Toulon.
But Friend says he’s merely safeguarding Cooper’s body and his own team’s ambitions of winning their sold-out home tournament through the “tough decision”.
The ARU are confident that Cooper’s French club, who delayed his return to Sydney, will now release him for next month’s Las Vegas leg of the world series so he can still play three tournaments.
But they must cross their fingers that Toulon’s other playmakers, Matt Giteau and Frederic Michalak, stay fit to ensure he gets that chance well before playing in London and Paris in May.