The Growden Report
Cooper wizardry has Reds scrambling for cash
Greg Growden
June 1, 2015
Force 10-32 Reds (Australia only)

No wonder Queensland Reds keep stressing they are doing everything they can to stop Quade Cooper from skipping off to the French Riviera. After endless weeks sidelined with a fractured scapula, Cooper returned on Saturday night, acting as if he hasn't been away for a millisecond, and immediately transformed the Reds back into an actual football team.

The Western Force-Queensland Reds match originally had little appeal: the Reds - a rabble riddled with internal problems - had hit a concrete wall; the Force's game plan can be written on the back of a postage stamp - negative, reactive, excruciatingly boring. A nil-all draw was a distinct possibility.That was until the announcement a few days before kick-off that Cooper was back. You were immediately shaken out of your stupor. At last the game - apart from the hope of revealing half-time footage from the Reds dressing rooms - had an element worth watching. And how mightily did Cooper respond - providing 80 minutes of wizardry that succeeded in showing the faults in the Force's minimalist approach as well as reminding all of what can be achieved if you're actually inventive and prepared to take chances.

The Reds for the first time in a long time looked interested in actually playing, and that had a lot to do with Cooper succeeding in reigniting its stagnant backline with smart passes, good decisions and a willingness to improve the attacking opportunities of everyone around him. With it came memorable moments, such as the incredible backhand flick that put his winger Lachie Turner away to score.

Such joy also leads to a touch of regret, as it appears near certain Cooper will be soon making his last appearance for the Reds. Toulon are adamant they have Cooper signed up for the next two seasons. They even have the pictures to prove it. A photo of Cooper in a Toulon jersey standing next to the French club's owner Mourad Boudjellal is pretty convincing. The Reds counter argue contractual discussions are continuing. Cooper has gone silent.

Quade Cooper was unveiled by Toulon last month but the Reds are hoping he may yet backflip © RCT

In the midst of it all is speculation that Cooper's decision could hinge on who is the Reds coach next season, with Matt O'Connor, recently sacked from Leinster, emerging from left field to become a leading contender to replace Richard Graham. No matter what, you can understand why the Reds' key priority is to retain Cooper; without him, they are basically Casper the Friendly Ghost.

And Wallabies coach Michael Cheika would like to see Cooper around for a little while longer, as this was the type of performance that puts the playmaker right back at the top of Australia's Rugby World Cup No.10 pecking order.

But Cheika has other problems to deal with at the moment. If he doesn't address the Waratahs' lack of discipline and eagerness to show off their He-Men status at the wrong moment, he may not be able to field 15 starters. You would have thought after Tolu Latu and Will Skelton were suspended for a dangerous tackle in their previous match against the Crusaders that the Waratahs would have realised the folly of such actions. Clearly not, because Rob Horne has now been suspended for three weeks after pleading guilty to a similar tackle that saw him yellow carded during the loss to the Lions. It was not as glaring as the Latu/Skelton tackle on Sam Whitelock, but SANZAR are rightly eager to eradicate this form of tackle, Jacques Potgieter was then sent to the sinbin for a blatant shoulder charge, and such disruptions made it so much easier for the Lions to finish victors.

It has been obvious in recent weeks that the Waratahs have not taken kindly to suggestions they have gone soft, and so the defending Super Rugby champions have deliberately become a far more physical side. That's good in theory, and it certainly has New Zealand somewhat concerned over the potential impact of Skelton in the Bledisloe Cup encounters later this year. But the tough man approach - if it gets completely out of hand - could easily see the Waratahs slip out of finals contention; a team must have 15 players on the field for the whole 80 minutes at this delicate time in the Super Rugby season.

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