Will Coopergate help Wallabies?
Exiled Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper may be the best weapon Australia can take into their test against the Springboks at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, with a strong indication that none of his teammates were supporting his controversial and outspoken comments about coach Robbie Deans.
Cooper stunned the Southern Hemisphere rugby fraternity this week when he claimed Deans created an environment in the team which was “toxic” and which was not conducive to success.
But while Deans and co have repeatedly sidestepped the issue, not one of Cooper’s teammates have come out in support of him, with Australian team management indicating that the players were rather “irritated” at his timing and taking the focus off their preparations.
The closest any player came to making a comment on his utterings was Drew Mitchell who tweeted “It’s getting harder to bite my tongue…”after Cooper’s appearance on Australian rugby show The Rugby Club.
Stephen Moore, who returned home after pulling a hamstring this week in Johannesburg, echoed Mitchell’s comments, replying with a “+1” to Mitchell’s tweet to indicate he agreed.
On Friday, a visibly irritated Nathan Sharpe, captain of the team, once again reiterated the comments had not distracted them from their efforts to prepare for the game.
"We're concerned with the game on the weekend," he told journalists.
"Those things will play themselves out the way they're supposed to.
"We're over here to do a job and that's to beat South Africa, representing Australia ... we're looking forward to that and all those things happening back home, we've got no influence over them."
But players in the team hotel have been mulling about and cracking jokes, hardly indicative of a “toxic” atmosphere and even organised an extra team dinner on their night off this week.
There may be a sense that Cooper’s comments may have galvanised them and brought them closer, as they seek to win their first game in history at Loftus Versfeld against the Springboks.
Either way, it has cast a shadow over the preparations this week and whether or not Cooper will be proved right in his comments will be played out on Saturday in the test match.
On Thursday night, former Springbok coach Jake White, back in South Africa on holiday, said Cooper was out of line on SuperSport’s Boots ‘n All programme.
"What I've read, it's obviously not great for anyone to come out and slander the team you play for and the coach you play for," White said.
"It doesn't matter whether it's Quade Cooper or any other international player, you can't allow the players to come out and say what they want, especially in a forum like that.
"I'm sure the ARU are not going to just let this go by."
The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) released a statement responding to Cooper’s comments, but didn’t say if they were to take disciplinary action against the player.
“In light of Quade’s interview last night, we feel compelled to respond because he has moved beyond his comments of the weekend,” CEO John O’Neill said in a statement.
“Much of what was said on The Rugby Club has left us utterly confused.
“Quade wants more of a say in the game plan, he wants to play his style of game.
“He certainly made that clear. Yet he also said he could adapt if required.
“He talks of an unhappy environment without elaborating.
“He uses the word toxic – an extremely strong descriptor.
“However, when pressed on the issues he turned to facilities and the Wallabies not having a dedicated place to train.
“We’ve never had these concerns raised previously.
“The fact is the Wallabies are a national team. They train, stay and play in cities all around the country and overseas.
“The Australian cricket team and the Socceroos, same thing.
“Suggesting the Wallabies are under resourced has equally come out of the blue.
“Most disturbingly, he was firm about not playing for the Wallabies unless things change.
“If that is how he feels, then that is his choice.
“The reality is a decision on whether or not he stays in Australian Rugby has to this point rested with him since he received an ARU offer in early July.”