Cooper's shadow haunts Wallabies
Wallaby outcast Quade Cooper’s shadow continues to hang over Robbie Deans’s squad as the Australians do their best to overcome internal battles ahead of Saturday’s test match against the Springboks at Loftus Versfeld.
Having already lost Stephen Moore to injury and battling a gastro outbreak in the side, coach Deans has had to deflect questions regarding Cooper’s assertion that team atmosphere is “toxic” and that players are afraid of speaking out.
With Deans already under much pressure from his own media ahead of tough tests against the Boks and Argentina, Cooper’s remarks have come at precisely the wrong time as the Wallabies attempt to break their duck in Pretoria and win there for the first time in history.
While Cooper has mulled a move to Rugby League, the team have deflected any talk about the Queensland Reds flyhalf with both Adam Ashley-Cooper and Berrick Barnes sidestepping questions about Cooper’s comments.
Both players said they don’t follow social media, which has been awash with the outbursts, as the pivot let rip against coach Deans and the squad.
On Tuesday it was Barnes who deflected the questioning, hauling out his old Nokia phone to show he couldn’t even access Twitter, let alone respond to Cooper’s comments. However, it was clear it was a line of questioning the Wallabies aren’t going to give a response to.
“Fortunately mate I’m not on Twitter or Facebook – I’m bit of a recluse in terms of social media. I’ve still got an old Nokia, and it works,” Barnes told journalists.
“What Quade wants to do and say in his own time is up to him, but with us we’re extremely focused on the task at hand, and we’d love to be the only Australian side that has ever won here since sides have come out to Pretoria to play. We’re under no illusion as to how much pressure the Boks are under at the moment and how much they want to get a good result.”
On Tuesday former Wallaby coach John Connolly became the latest to bag Cooper, saying his comments were “unacceptable”.
Connolly told AAP the Australian Rugby Union could not ignore the comments, and that Cooper may have reached a point where it will be very difficult to work with Deans.
"It nearly becomes untenable I think, those types of comments within a team," Connolly said.
"Players will brush it off and say it doesn't mean anything and whatever but it does. It's not acceptable to have players going public bagging the coach.
"Whatever the broken relationship is, and there's clearly something wrong, it becomes untenable at that point."
Connolly said the ARU had to respond to the comments.
"I don't think they can let it rest, there's no doubt," he told AAP. "They can't just act as though it didn't happen.
"There's a lot of issues that need to be addressed.
"It does affect the code ... the ARU needs to review the situation because there's little doubt that compared to the other codes we're not as good as we were."
Former Reds coach Eddie Jones has told Cooper to leave Rugby Union and join League as “he needs something new”
A poll on Australian broadcaster Foxsports’ website said almost 60 per cent of fans agreed with Cooper’s stance, but readers slagged his methods, timing and threats to jump codes.
Television commentator Greg Clark said Cooper had some support from teammates.
“I’m told that there are some Wallabies who agree with Cooper but they won’t admit to it publicly in fear of losing their spot. Cooper seems to have accepted that his days are numbered while Deans is in charge,” Clark wrote in his column on Foxsports.com.au.
The Wallabies already face tough odds in South Africa, and Cooper’s comments have turned the spotlight squarely on coach Robbie Deans.
In a week where they would have loved to escape their own country and quietly prepare in South Africa, Cooper has ensured this won’t be the case.