Quade Cooper’s three-part audition for a place in the Wallabies squad for the British and Irish Lions series begins this weekend, but he is not the only Australian with a point to prove in Super Rugby action.
Australia coach Robbie Deans has six more places in his squad to fill on July 11 and made it clear when he announced the preliminary 25 last Sunday that every player qualified for Australia had a chance to impress over the next three rounds of Super Rugby.
The New Zealander also made it clear that Queensland Reds flyhalf Cooper needed to be more aggressive in attack and defense, and he will have his first chance to show that side to his game against South Africa’s Western Stormers in Cape Town tomorrow.
Following that, the Reds head back home to host the Melbourne Rebels before a Brisbane blockbuster against the British and Irish tourists at Lang Park on June 8.
“Make tackles, be tackled and dominate,” Wallabies great Tim Horan wrote in his Daily Telegraph column yesterday.
“If Quade Cooper can achieve these three goals in Queensland’s next trio of matches, but particularly against the Lions, he’ll present Robbie Deans with a compelling case to print him a boarding pass for Wallaby camp next month,” Horan said.
The Super Rugby match on June 1 against the Rebels should bring Cooper face-to-face with his friend James O’Connor, who has been nominated by Deans as his first-choice flyhalf against the Lions.
However, O’Connor will be out of action for the second successive week when the Rebels host the New South Wales Waratahs tonight because of the sternum injury he sustained two weeks ago.
Berrick Barnes, another flyhalf option for Deans, is to start for the Waratahs for the first time in 10 weeks and only the second time this season, but looking to back up brilliant performances from the bench in the last two weeks.
Barnes has been included in the 25-man Wallabies squad, but his versatility means he will start the match against the Rebels at inside center and could also be an option at fullback for Deans.
With Kurtley Beale, who has played both fullback and center for Australia, looking unlikely to feature for the Rebels again this year after being stood down to deal with “personal issues,” the Wallabies’ No. 15 shirt is up for grabs.
Waratahs fullback Israel Folau gets another chance to press his claim for the jersey in only his 13th game of rugby union today, while Jesse Mogg will have to wait for tomorrow, when his ACT Brumbies take on the Blues in Auckland.
Mogg was unlucky to miss out on the initial squad and he and Brumbies winger Joe Tomane, who did make the party, will have their defensive skills tested by a Blues backline boasting the sort of size and pace the Lions backs will bring to Australia.
With Digby Ioane now “touch and go” for the first Lions Test after undergoing knee surgery, the pretenders to his place on Australia’s left wing have much to play for.
Tomane and Folau, a winger at international level in rugby league, are options, as is the hard-running Nick Cummins, who bestowed the nickname “honey badger” on himself because of the animal’s ferocious defensive abilities.
Cummins, who made his Wallabies debut last year, was the only Western Force player to make Deans’ 25-man squad and will have another chance to show what he can do against the Otago Highlanders in Perth tomorrow.
Deans named only one scrumhalf, Will Genia, and the Rebels’ Nick Phipps and uncapped Nic White of the Brumbies will be keen to shine this weekend, with Deans having declared Luke Burgess, who is playing in France, a contender.