Cape Town - Wallabies
coach Michael Cheika says Quade Cooper’s form forced his hand, after
leaving the playmaker out of an extended 38-man training squad on
It is the first time Cooper has been left out of a Wallabies squad since Robbie Deans omitted him from the 2013 series against the British and Irish Lions, with injuries and a stint overseas keeping him out of contention at other times.
Cooper has had one of his more injury-free seasons in 2017 but has been hampered by niggles and battled to have consistently positive influences on matches.
Cheika said he had spoken to Cooper about the reasons for his omission but ultimately it came down to his inconsistent performances in Super Rugby.
“From a form perspective, yeah I don’t think his form has been brilliant, to be honest,” he told the Australian Rugby Union website.
“With us, it’s a bit different because I haven’t been giving him big minutes (for the Wallabies), so I can’t be saying it’s form in that way.
"And, if we’re honest, there’s a reason why we haven’t been giving him those minutes.
“I have had a long talk with him yesterday and I don’t want to breach that code of coach-player by giving out too much detail, but one of the big things is for him to look like he is enjoying his footy.
“We have had a talk about the reasons why and obviously a lot of that is trying to get him back into a space where he can be that player that’s going to get us around the park and do the stuff that we want him to do.
“I don’t feel like that’s been happening and I feel like at a certain point I have to change things.
“With a bit of congestion now in the midfield players, with (Kurtley) Beale back and some of the options around the ten position, I decided that’s the way to go.”
Bernard Foley has been almost unrivalled for the starting 10 spot in the past three seasons, though he was pushed out to 12 for Cooper to start in five Tests last year.
Cheika pointed to Beale as another flyhalf option in the squad, though Beale has been open about his ambitions to play 12, with the Wallabies mentor overlooking Force 10 Jono Lance and neither of the Brumbies nor Rebels regulars eligible.
Cooper’s Test days don’t seem quite over, but Cheika has sent a clear message by not bringing the Queenslander into a 38-man squad that is still yet to have the Brumbies contingent added to it.
How he will be able to find his way back is unclear, with Cheika undecided over his club rugby involvement, though all non-Wallabies in Super Rugby play in the National Rugby Championship.
“We haven’t gone down that road yet,” added Cheika.
“I had a good long talk with him yesterday and we will talk again next week and we will decide a plan of action for him to show what he needs to do to get back in.”
Cooper’s Reds team-mate Scott Higginbotham was the other major omission in the side, with Cheika simply saying he hadn’t brought the impact required, preferring younger backrow options instead.
“I just think he need to have more impact, and when I say impact, he is a big guy and a powerful ball carrier and defender,” he said.
"Just that little bit more impact, in the combination of backrowers we had, was what I was looking for."
The squad includes 11 uncapped players and nine from the Western Force, a side that had just four representatives in the June series (Adam Coleman, Richard Hardwick, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Dane Haylett-Petty), with rookie prop Jermaine Ainsley training with the team.
Uncapped centre pairing Bill Meakes and Curtis Rona have been included after impressive Super Rugby performances this season.
Meakes was part of a training camp last year after returning from Gloucester, but had not even been included in any of the Wallabies mid-season meetings this year.
"I think I’ve known Meakes for a fair while and I’ve seen him go from here to Gloucester and I just think what he’s done has been his enthusiasm in the games, it’s warranted him the opportunity to get out there," Cheika said.
"He’s been on the fringe - we’ve got a lot of players in that area.
"I think this will be an opportunity for the first time for me to get a look at (Curtis) Rona close up and see where he’s at as far as his work rate and also as far as his football and knowledge and where might he play in the end, will it be centre, will it be wing?"
The Waratahs had 10 players in the squad, with Rob Horne left out despite having an unlikely return to the lineup in June, but youngsters Jack Dempsey and Ned Hanigan have been retained.
Queensland headed the list with 11 players in the squad, including Taniela Tupou and Izaia Perese returning to the training group after being development players, and youngsters Campbell Magnay and Adam Korczyk also in the mix.
Cheika has also backed up his June endorsement of Rebels hooker Jordan Uelese, picking him in the squad for the first time.
As interesting as his additions are his recalls, with out-of-favour locks Kane Douglas and Rob Simmons back in the mix, though young lock Lukhan Tui has not been included this time around due to injury.
Cheika said he wanted to give Douglas, especially, a chance to prove he could get back to the quality that made him a regular Wallaby only 18 months ago.
"With Kane, there is a bit of me there just saying I know what this guy can do and I want to get him back," he said.
"I want to have the chance myself to get him back to that level."
Force props Pek Cowan and Tetera Faulkner have also returned from the Test wilderness for the first time since 2014, while Melbourne's Toby Smith has been left out, with family matters in New Zealand to deal with.
Some of the Wallabies squad will pop up in the coming weeks, with Nick Phipps a chance to play for Sydney Uni with just a half under his belt since an ankle injury ruled him out of the June Series.
The Wallabies go into camp as a whole on Sunday, with a mix of conditioning and skills.
Jermaine Ainsley, Adam Coleman, Pek Cowan, Jack Dempsey, Kane Douglas, Sef Fa'agase, Tetera Faulkner, Ned Hanigan, Richard Hardwick, Michael Hooper, Sekope Kepu, Adam Korczyk, Tolu Latu, Sean McMahon, Stephen Moore (captain), Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Rob Simmons, Lopeti Timani, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese
Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Karmichael Hunt, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Campbell Magnay, Billy Meakes, Eto Nabuli, Sefa Naivalu, Izaia Perese, Nick Phipps, Curtis Rona