Australian Rugby - Wallabies v British & Irish Lions
McKenzie slams Cooper's omission
ESPN Staff
May 19, 2013
Robbie Deans explains his squad selections

Ewen McKenzie launched a fierce defence of Quade Cooper after Wallabies coach Robbie Deans on Sunday all but froze the playmaker out of the looming series with the British & Irish Lions.

Deans declared one-Test five-eighth James O'Connor his first-choice playmaker, named Berrick Barnes and uncapped Christian Lealiifano as his back-ups, and omitted both Cooper and troubled incumbent Kurtley Beale from his initial 25-man squad to face the Lions in June and July.

The coach will add a further six players to his squad on June 11, and insisted the door was not closed for Cooper and Beale, but he delivered an ultimatum to Cooper and McKenzie which the Reds coaching boss challenged as unfounded. Deans insisted Cooper was not continuing to pay the price for describing the Wallabies' culture as toxic last year, comments which earned him a $60,000 fine and a three-game ban. But he said that Cooper must defend in the front line rather than drop to fullback when he plays for Queensland against the Lions in Brisbane on June 8.

"Test rugby is another level from Super Rugby and we would like to see Quade defend in the front line," Deans said at the squad announcement. "We would like him to assert himself physically in the game because it's an element which you can't avoid at Test level. He's got a great opportunity to do that and hopefully dent the Lions' belief at the same time playing for the Reds. Assertiveness is both ways in attack and defence at Test level. That's what we would like to see, particularly in that outing."

Wallabies squad to face British & Irish Lions

  • Props: Ben Alexander (Brumbies), Sekope Kepu (Waratahs), Benn Robinson (Waratahs), James Slipper (Reds).
  • Hookers: Stephen Moore (Brumbies), Saia Faingaa (Reds).
  • Locks: James Horwill (Reds), Rob Simmons (Reds), Sitaleki Timani (Waratahs).
  • Backrowers: Dave Dennis (Waratahs), Liam Gill (Reds), Scott Higginbotham (Rebels), Michael Hooper (Waratahs), Ben Mowen (Brumbies), Wycliff Palu (Waratahs).
  • Half-backs: Will Genia (Reds).
  • Five-eighths: Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies), James O'Connor (Rebels).
  • Centres: Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs), Rob Horne (Waratahs).
  • Wingers: Nick Cummins (Force), Digby Ioane (Reds), Joe Tomane (Brumbies).
  • Fullbacks: Berrick Barnes (Waratahs), Israel Folau (Waratahs).

But McKenzie - Deans' most likely successor as Wallabies coach should Australia lose the series against the Lions and also fail to win back the Bledisloe Cup - said it was ridiculous to suggest that Cooper couldn't tackle.

"What's Quade been doing for the last 13 weeks?" McKenzie told AAP when contacted in South Africa. "He defended in the front line last night [against the Cheetahs]. He defended there against the Hurricanes. It's not Test rugby, but he's tackled at 70% in the front line and he's improved defensively every year I've been at the Reds. He's more dominant in the tackle, and he's more aggressive. And he's played more minutes for us this season than anyone, and there's players in the [Wallabies] squad who have barely played a game."

McKenzie also questioned O'Connor's defensive starch, claiming he had been "speedbumped" while playing for Melbourne Rebels.

Cooper could yet force his way into the squad as it remains unclear what plans Deans has for Beale, who is undergoing rehabilitation treatment for issues with alcohol with no return date set.

"People will say that's the end for Quade, but that's not the case," Deans said. "There's still six positions to be resolved. We all know Quade's history in the group. I've selected him on 38 occasions, I understand. So he's had a lot of faith and support from me. To suggest otherwise is nonsense."

How do you rate Robbie Deans' initial 25-man squad to face the British & Irish Lions? Should he have picked Quade Cooper? Who will win the Tom Richards Cup? Leave a message at the foot of the story to join the conversation with your fellow rugby fans.


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