Wallabies five-eighth Quade Cooper, along with his Queensland Reds and the Brumbies have all suffered setbacks during an eventful round of Super Rugby.
Wallabies five-eighth Quade Cooper was ruled out of Australia’s season-opening Test against France next month on a costly weekend for his battling Queensland Reds and the stumbling Brumbies.
Cooper suffered a shoulder injury in Queensland’s last-minute 30-27 loss to the Melbourne Rebels, a sixth straight defeat that leaves the Reds bottom of the Super Rugby ladder and facing the demoralising prospect of collecting the wooden spoon.
The Brumbies’ surprise 27-21 slip-up against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein and the Western Force’s 24-6 loss to the Stormers in Cape Town opened the door on Sunday for the NSW Waratahs to take control of the Australian conference.
And the Waratahs burst through it with a 41-13 bonus-point win over the Lions to set up an intriguing run to the finals.
More immediately, though, Cooper’s anticipated month on the sidelines leaves Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie on the hunt for a new No.10 for the first of three Tests against Les Bleus in Brisbane on June 7.
A standout on the Wallabies’ spring tour, Cooper was likely to hold onto his Test starting spot despite the Reds’ forgettable Super campaign, but now McKenzie must weigh up the merits of several playmaking contenders.
Brumbies five-eighth Matt Toomua, who made his Test debut in McKenzie’s first match in charge of the Wallabies last year, looks the favourite for a recall, but Bernard Foley has soared into contention after a superb season for the Waratahs.
Fellow Waratahs midfielder Kurtley Beale could also slot into the Wallabies playmaking hot seat, a role not unfamiliar to the classy backline utility.
Foley, though, was instrumental again for the Waratahs on Sunday, creating four tries and nailing seven goals from as many attempts to leave Michael Cheika’s team in pole position in the race for Australian conference honours.
The Tahs’ victory nudged them to within one competition point of the Brumbies, who still have a bye – which offers no points – to come.
Suddenly, after entering round 14 in eighth spot overall and third behind the Brumbies and Force in the Australian conference, the now fourth-placed Waratahs can take control of their destiny with success over the Rebels on Friday in Melbourne.
The Rebels are high on confidence, though, and will be no pushovers after posting their historic first-ever win over the Reds on Saturday night.
But if the Waratahs win, the Brumbies will be under immense pressure to topple the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday morning (AEST) not to give up even more ground to their Sydney rivals.
“The challenge now is to face a Bulls side who have found a little bit of form since the start of the season, so it’s going to be a very difficult ask,” said Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham.
“We came over here last year (in the semi-finals) and we had a good result but you very rarely come over here and have a good result with the Bulls.
“We spoke about it in the sheds, that we need to make sure our preparation this week is as good as it can be.
“We don’t want any excuses for jet lag this week.”
The Waratahs’ ….-try triumph over the Lions also bumped the Force out of the top six.
The Perth-based outfit slipped to seventh ahead of their hosting of the Lions on Saturday.