Reds coach defends Cooper
Sydney - Reds head coach Ewen McKenzie has backed his ditched Wallaby Quade Cooper over defensive concerns for next month's Test series against the British and Irish Lions.
McKenzie joined Australian rugby pundits in taking issue with coach Robbie Deans for leaving playmaker Cooper out of his initial Wallabies squad.
McKenzie said he wants to know why Deans is only now demanding Cooper defend in the front line for the Reds to have any hope of featuring in the Tests against the Lions.
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"Myself, Robbie and Quade had a discussion about Quade and where he defends at the start of last year and we haven't had any discussions since," McKenzie told Australian Associated Press from South Africa.
"So now he has one match to defend in the front line to make the Lions squad? It's easy to say that now. What's he been saying for the last 13 weeks?
"It's not like he hasn't been defending in the front line anyway."
One rugby commentator labelled Cooper's omission a "travesty" while another said the maverick flyhalf was paying for an outburst last year at Deans and for calling the Wallabies' environment "toxic".
Deans has talked up the merits of James O'Connor at flyhalf instead of Cooper, who will still get a chance to join the final squad as one of six players to be added on June 10.
Deans played down any friction with Cooper at the squad announcement: "We all know Quade's history in the group and I've selected him on 38 occasions so he's had a lot of faith and support from me. That's not an issue and to suggest otherwise is nonsense."
But that did not wash with The Australian's Wayne Smith, who said that Deans was fully aware of Cooper's flaws when he chose him consistently in the past.
"Presumably on each of those 38 occasions in the past, Deans was fully aware of his suspect defence, his high turnover rate, his occasional flaky moments," Smith wrote.
"Knowing all of these things, he still picked him, 38 times, until Cooper said the word 'toxic'.
"Why did Deans select him 38 times? Because he knew that Cooper, for all his shortcomings, is capable of doing things on a rugby field that are next to impossible to defend against."
The Brisbane Courier Mail's Jim Tucker said Deans had decided to forsake the flyhalf who can give him a supreme 10-out-of-10 game against the Lions.
"Good coach. Dud selector. That has often been the label for Deans," Tucker said.
"There are plenty of Reds fans today jeering the biggest travesty dealt a Queensland number 10 since Bob Dwyer left out Paul McLean from the first Test side to face Scotland at Ballymore in 1982."