Wallabies taking diplomatic approach with Quade Cooper’s availability, Japanese clubs

Rugby


The Wallabies are taking the diplomatic approach to securing Quade Cooper’s availability for the U.K. leg of their spring tour, after the veteran playmaker was named for his fifth straight Test start in Saturday’s match against Japan.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie on Thursday unveiled a squad without the in-form Samu Kerevi — the centre has not completely recovered from an ankle injury — with Hunter Paisami set to slot back into the midfield for his first Test since Bledisloe II.

Back-rower Rob Leota, winger Tom Wright and Matt Philip are the three further changes to the run-on side that wrapped up the Rugby Championship with a win over Argentina on the Gold Coast.

While Kerevi is a big loss at No. 12, Cooper’s presence at fly-half outside Nic White ensures the Wallabies have continuity in the halves for a match that is expected to be played at a frenetic pace.

Cooper’s participation beyond Saturday’s Test in Oita is not yet rubber-stamped however, with Rennie revealing conversations with his Japanese club Kintetsu Liners were ongoing.

Cooper himself earlier this week admitted a decision was above his paygrade, despite the Tests against Scotland, England and Wales all falling under World Rugby designated international window when clubs cannot stand in the way of players representing their national teams.

“Obviously the intention is to take him to Europe,” Rennie said of Cooper on Thursday.

But rather than demand Cooper travel further north with the squad, as is their right under Regulation 9, Rennie says the Wallabies are instead trying to build positive relationships with the Japanese clubs.

“Through this process, like I’ve said, from a Reg 9 point-of-view we can take Quade with us,” Rennie explained. “But we’ve been working through with the club [Kintetsu Liners] as a courtesy because we want to have a strong relationship with them, and we understand that they’ve got goals and aspirations as well and they’ve got a competition that starts early January. So we’ve been having constant discussions around that.

“I think maybe what’s clouded [Quade’s availability], maybe not so much for us, obviously we’ve been having ongoing discussions, but as opposed to us just coming in and saying ‘we’re taking him’, we’re trying to talk to the clubs and come to a resolution that suits everyone.

“That’s been our mindset, I think the relationship’s important, so we think we’ll get a positive resolution.”

Given Saturday’s Test falls outside a designated World Rugby window, Kintetsu would have been within their rights to stop Cooper from playing, something Rennie has no doubt taken into consideration in discussions about his playmaker moving forward.

And the Wallabies coach said there might be a situation where Cooper returns to Kintetsu before the tour heads to Cardiff, and Australia’s Test season comes to a close against Wales. He also revealed similar discussions were ongoing with Suntory Sungoliath, where Kerevi and Sean McMahon both play their club rugby.

Given the growing power of Japanese rugby, largely due to the huge financial sums their clubs are able to offer foreign players, the Wallabies’ approach appears to be one of smart management knowing the pressure that might be applied on players in the coming years.

Both Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby have also realised that can’t fight the Japanese influence, and instead must find a way to work with the Top League through sabbaticals and other contract variables.

But officials from both nations also won’t bow completely to the likes of Suntory, who retain England coach Eddie Jones as its Director of Rugby.

Meanwhile, the challenge of creating midfield thrust for the Wallabies has fallen to Paisami this week, with Rennie saying the Reds centre had already shown he belonged at Test level.

“He’ll play his own game, what we know with Hunter is he’s explosive and powerful, he’s got a really good skill set, so not a lot changes really,” Rennie said.

“He’s slotted in really nicely and he’s had a full training week over here, so we think it’ll be nicely.”

Waratahs centre Izaia Perese, meanwhile, is edging towards a Test debut after he was cruelly denied a call-up earlier in the year when he was injured in the final Super Rugby Trans-Tasman game.

“We like what we’ve seen from Izzy, he’s very powerful, very explosive, very quick,” Rennie said.

“He’s obviously been out for a long time; we’re just trying to get him match fit, really. He’s done a fair bit of work with the Waratahs, he’s got a good base now, we’re just trying to sharpen him up.

“And there’s a fair bit to get your head around, too, from a structure point-of-view. So he’s going well, he’s picking up things quickly.

“But we just felt that this weekend was a little bit close for him, two more weeks heading into Scotland he’d be a chance for that.”



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