O’Connor the real deal at 10 against Wales
Quade Cooper faces a battle to retain the Wallabies five eighth role ahead of friend James O’Connor next season.
QUADE COOPER faces a battle to retain the Wallabies five eighth role ahead of friend James O’Connor next season.
That was clear following O’Connor’s assured performance in Australia’s 24-18 victory over Wales in an emotional encounter at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
In his maiden Test in the playmaking position, O’Connor combined beautifully with inside centre Berrick Barnes in front of nearly 62,000 fans, most hoping for a home win to farewell Welsh hero Shane Williams into retirement.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans wasn’t prepared to speculate about who will have first call on the five-eighth spot in 2012 for good reason.
The next match is a long way off. The Wallabies don’t play again until June 5, against Scotland, with plenty of other rugby to be played before that.
But unlike most of this year, Cooper now has serious competition for his spot in the national team.
The flamboyant Queensland Reds player is on the mend from a serious knee injury and expected to miss the early part of next year’s Super Rugby season as he returns from a patchy World Cup showing.
Having produced the goods in a 60-11 cakewalk over the Barbarians last weekend, Deans said the Cardiff match was the real test of the versatile O’Connor’s five-eighth credentials.
“To do it in the Baa Baas match was something to do it in a Test match is totally different,” Deans said.
“What it has shown is that he thinks about the game a lot more than most wingers do.”
The precocious O’Connor still has his moments but it is the way he responds that is most impressive.
With Australia leading 10-6 in the 57th minute, he missed a sitter of a penalty kick from in front to huge roars from the home crowd.
However a minute later he was sending a huge cut-out ball that allowed winger Lachie Turner to stroll over for a try.
“You can’t live in the past,” he said.
“We have done a lot of work this year with all the boys about not getting down about errors.
“Errors happen, it is part of the game and it is what you do next that defines how you play.”
O’Connor has benefited tremendously from having Barnes at inside centre beside him with the NSW Waratahs player’s kicking game and smarts coming to the fore on Saturday.
Considering that his future was in doubt because of head injuries a few months ago, Barnes’ revival has been something else.
Despite giving away 23kg to opposite number Jamie Roberts and being on the end of two big tackles early on, he had an excellent all-round game.
Barnes said he enjoyed playing alongside O’Connor but that Cooper’s return would change the selection dynamics.
“You would like that but a lot is going to change between now and then,” he said.
“There is a lot of Super Rugby to be played before now and than and Quadey will come back from his knee injury hopefully better than ever and then we will see how things pan out.”
But the performance of the backline was not the only positive for the Wallabies.
Australia have been accused of having an over-reliance on star flanker David Pocock with the national team suffering losses to Samoa and Ireland in his absence this year.
Not on Saturday, even the scrum looked good.
Following Pocock’s substitution at halftime because of injury, the Wallabies forward pack actually played better with big Scott Higginbotham looking far more settled at No.6.
With question marks over 75-Test veteran Rocky Elsom’s future following a poor World Cup and off-season surgery, the Queenslander’s outing would have left a mark on Deans.
NSW Waratahs winger Lachie Turner suffered a fractured thumb and Pocock injured his ankle, although the Wallabies camp said there was no structural damage. - AAP