Beale, Cooper in key head-to-head
March 4, 2013
Quade Cooper is yet to recapture the best of his 2011 title-winning form © Getty Images
Robbie Deans has a lot of numbers to crunch before the first Test against the British & Irish Lions in June, but the Wallabies coach will learn plenty about his key personnel this weekend.
With early-season cobwebs hopefully now out of the way for the players, there will be nowhere to hide in round four as the best from the Australian conference go head-to-head in Super Rugby.
Melbourne Rebels host Queensland Reds on Friday night, pitting good mates Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper against each other at five-eighth. And both candidates have significant points to prove to Deans if they're to wear the No. 10 for Australia against the Lions: Beale must show he can fire despite the burden of a shoulder injury, and Cooper needs to rediscover his form of 2011 if he's to have a chance of regaining the coach's trust.
On Saturday, Deans will watch in interest as Israel Folau heads to Canberra anxious to take another stride towards an unlikely Wallabies debut by making a statement against the red-hot Brumbies.
The Reds were defiant against the Hurricanes%]
The Waratahs' 31-26 win over the Rebels on Friday night shapes as something of a breakthrough moment for both New South Wales and their star recruit.
"We're obviously headed down to the No. 1 team in the conference next week, and we've got to make sure we've got a better grasp around [our game] before we go down there otherwise they might give us a touch-up," Waratahs coach Michael Cheika said.
Folau looked shaky at fullback in the round-one loss to the Reds, but the NRL and AFL convert looked in his element when shifted to the wing halfway through the match against Rebels.
The Waratahs produced another stirring comeback, but this time, against the Rebels, they achieved victory%]
Deans cannot ignore a player with such size and freakish skill, but Folau must have time to feel comfortable in one position at Super Rugby level if he's to be considered for a meteoric Test debut; the early signs suggest wing is that spot, Folau is set to start at fullback against the Brumbies - meaning he'll go head-to-head with Jesse Mogg. However, Cheika has stated all along that his back-three are transferable, and there's no doubt Folau will spend plenty of time out wide.
The veteran openside flanker is set to face the Waratahs, as an impact player off the bench. Smith won't play for the Wallabies again, but Deans hopes his presence will push the Brumbies superstar No.7 David Pocock even further and inspire young Australian opensides such as the Waratahs' NSW's Michael Hooper.