British & Irish Lions
Lynagh wants Cooper at No.10 for Lions
April 25, 2013
Michael Lynagh wants O'Connor, Beale and Cooper in the same team © Getty Images
Cooper last ran out for the Wallabies in the 2012 Rugby Championship but his campaign was cut short by a knee injury. He was forced to spend a lengthy spell on the sidelines but during his battle back to fitness he launched a stinging attack on the Australian Rugby Union and labelled the environment in the Wallabies' camp toxic.
This prompted rumours Cooper was contemplating a switch to rugby league, following long-term friend Sonny Bill Williams in the process, but he re-committed to the Reds and the ARU in December.
He has since returned to full fitness and has played a prominent role for the Reds this term but his international future was shrouded in uncertainty after he was omitted from a Wallabies training camp which was announced earlier this month.
Coach Robbie Deans played down the omission and insisted that Cooper and Kurtley Beale, who is taking an indefinite break from the game to deal with personal issues relating to alcohol, are still very much in the mix.
And Lynagh, who played in all three Tests against the Lions in 1989, has backed Cooper to start at No.10 for the Wallabies but insists both Beale and James O'Connor, who was tipped to be the first choice fly-half come the summer, need to also feature in the team.
"Cooper's still paying the price a little bit for his misdemeanours last year and if it was me, then I'd put him there but I'd make sure there was someone inside him that would look after him in the central position," Lynagh said. "Kurtley Beale's the incumbent at the moment; I'm led to believe he is just about to come back and is in pretty shape.
"Apparently Robbie Deans has been stand up paddle boarding with him every morning in Sydney, talking to him and he is in pretty good way. I think he will be a big part of the Australian tour. Where they play O'Connor, Beale and Cooper does not really matter as they are all very talented players. What I think is important is that they are in the team somewhere because they're the sort of people that can turn a game or a series.
"What you have to do is have people around them who can control them and point them in the right direction. Quade's got an issue in defence, but he's worked on that pretty hard, and he's also got an issue with his turnover and possession but that's because he tries things all the time.
"But if you've got a team around him who can cope with that then I'd play him at ten. Our best player, I think, is Will Genia at half-back and their combination is very good so I would not want to split that up."
And Deans, who spoke to Cooper after the Reds' draw with the Brumbies last weekend, says the fly-half is fully aware of what he needs to do to force his way into the Test reckoning.
"We have spoken three times this week and he understands what will help him and he also understands what will impede his progress," Deans told Fox Sports' Rugby HQ. "Helping the Reds to thrive is an important part of it as the five-eighths are the nerve centre. Their key task is to help the team to thrive but there are some key accountabilities at Test level you just can't hide from."
Michael Lynagh was speaking at the announcement of Specsavers' sponsorship of match officials at this summer's Lions tour
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.