Wednesday’s Rugby News pumps up Quade Cooper’s return to Suncorp, examines the crucial improvement in the Waratahs performance, looks at a tough choice for a sevens and Waratahs forward along with outlining the hunger of the Reds to win their Super W play-off for a shot at the Waratahs
Reds unfazed by returning Cooper
Saturday, the 30th of April: the date marked on the calendar of many rugby fans as the return of the banished child of Queensland rugby back to where he made his name.
This Saturday marks the first time that Rebels fly half Quade Cooper will return to Suncorp to face the club that he played 12 years for and won a championship for in 2011, the Queensland Reds.
The clash marks the first time that Cooper comes up against Brad Thorn, the man that many thought ended his rugby career after expelling him from the Reds squad to the bowels of club rugby in 2018.
Despite the natural interest and inevitable hype up of the Thorn vs Cooper narrative, current Reds fly-half Bryce Hegarty refused to buy into the drama, displaying the respect held for Cooper within the Queensland ranks and the importance of focusing on their own game.
“Not at all. The focus is all our game and how we want to play,” Hegarty said. “He’s been a good player for a long time in Australian rugby.”
“He’s got the respect of me and other players that he deserves but I don’t focus too much at all on him or any other player when I’ve got things I want to execute for the team…For us, this match is just super important for our season.”
The Reds are coming off a dominant display against the Brumbies last Sunday, with the side’s approach this week focused on ensuring that they back up this performance for their clash with the Rebels on Saturday.
“Hopefully, that’s what we’ve spoken about a lot and we want to pride ourselves on being that consistent team that constantly delivers and it starts on the training field,” he said.
“I think it comes down to playing for one another and knowing your detail, going into games and then building on that momentum and that consistency that we’re starting to get now.”
The Reds will be looking for their 3rd win in a row and they will have to do it without Caleb Timu, who was suspended for punching during his club match.
This could serve as a double blow to their forward pack, who are likely to be without Angus Scott-Young, who will face the judiciary on Wednesday night to try and reduce his ban for striking James Slipper.
Blue Wall’s a Tandy improvement for NSW
The rise of the Waratahs to the top of the Australian Conference has largely been credited to the transformation of the side’s defence under the watch of defensive coach Steve Tandy.
In the first 5 games of the season, the Waratahs have allowed just 13 tries, six less than 2017 and four less than last year.
The side has not allowed more than three tries in a singular game and back rower Ned Hanigan has attributed the improvement to the work of Tandy in bringing clarity and continuant to the area.
“It’s not that different, it’s just blokes staying more connected with one another and you’re just trusting the fellows inside and outside you have got your back,” Hanigan said.
“It sounds simple but really practising it and making sure you don’t have those rogue guys. That Blue Wall is what we refer to it as and you just keep turning up.”
Tandy praised the side for sticking tough and buying into the system, believing that their impressive win over the Crusaders was a true barometer of how far the side has come.
“The boys are getting more trust and connection in how they go about their business and around working together and making good choices around it and it’s just something that seems to be growing,” Tandy said.
“Coming up against the Crusaders, we knew that was going to be a real barometer around where we were defensively,” he said.
“They do a lot of passes, they run a lot of variety around their shape, they’ve got good ball carriers, so it was really nice to stand up to that sort of test.
“I thought our discipline was outstanding and we trusted our system. We only gave three penalties away in a game coming up against the Crusaders is pretty special.”
The Waratahs will look to continue their strong form when they host the Sunwolves for the first time in Newcastle on Friday.
This will be a true test of the side’s quality, arguably more than the Crusaders, due to the side’s past habit of failing to back up a big win, regularly playing below their ability and losing seemingly easy games to sides below them on the ladder.
Wells back (for now)
Whilst on the men from NSW, Waratahs and Australian Sevens back-rower Michael Wells has reinforced his commitment to the NSW side for the rest of the Super Rugby season, however, he refused to give any indication of where his future lies post-2019.
Wells has split his time between the seven and fifteen man games, having returned for the Waratahs off the bench against the Crusaders last week after playing the first six rounds of the World Rugby Sevens.
Whilst Wells has committed to the Waratahs and the 15-man game for the rest of the season, his future beyond there was unconfirmed as he ruled out doing a similar splitting of his time for next year.
“At the moment my future is at the Tahs for the rest of the season and I will weigh that up after the season,” he said.
“It’s probably not sustainable flipping. Credit to the Sevens guys, they are genuine athlete and if you’re committed to Tokyo and you want to do the Olympics it’s probably a matter of getting your feet into the system and giving time.”
Despite having a background in sevens, Wells noted the difficulties that he faced making the transformation back to the shorter format, in the process warning those that wish to chase a spot on the 2020 Toyko Olympic team that it won’t be an easy task.
“It does take a lot of time to adapt to it and respect needs to be paid to the blokes who are playing sevens at the moment. You need time in there to get used to it.”
Wells has made a similar transition in the past, signing with the Brumbies after the 2016 series and believes that he still needs to ease back into the contact-heavy nature of the fifteen a side format.
“It was nice to come in that way and I adjusted a lot easier coming back to XVs than I did to sevens…I think I got nine tackles in 30 minutes. I don’t think I made nine tackles in the whole circuit series,” Wells said.
“There’s more contact, tighter quarters, bigger bodies (in XVs). I’ve gone from being a big body in Sevens to being a medium to small body in the forwards in XVs, that’s taken a bit of adjusting to.”
Reds desperate for Waratah blood
Queensland’s women team are desperate to earn a shot at redemption when they face the Brumbies in the Super W playoff on Sunday.
Both sides will be facing off for the opportunity to de-crown the reigning Super W champions, the NSW Waratahs, with the final set to take place at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday, April 7.
The opportunity to face the Waratahs comes as extra motivation for the Reds, who narrowly lost their only match with the Waratahs 15-12 in the regular season along with being defeated by the NSW women in the initial Super W grand final.
This was emphasised by hooker Averyl Mitchell, who understood and felt the need for revenge despite being in her initial season playing with the club.
“The players that have come through this year, they’re carrying that and I didn’t quite understand – you want to win every game you play, I don’t think there’s been anything be it a warm-up drill or anything that I don’t want to win – but you don’t really realise how strong that drive is until we played them the first time and we want to win really badly,” she said.
The Reds were still focused on getting past the Brumbies first, who they beat in a close contest 12-0, and she believed that the side needs to improve their performance and match ACT’s physicality if they wished to advance to the final.
“Obviously they’re really, really physical and really gave it to us. They’ve just come off a win in Perth, they’ve worked really hard to put together some good performances so we’re certainly not taking it lightly, we’ll be looking to improve on our performance two weeks ago,” she said.
Along with her playing commitments with the Reds, Mitchell also works for the club as a graphic designer and was still trying to come to terms with the opportunity that she had been given.
“When you first start playing, obviously everyone’s different, but for me it was always about, it’s the sort of thing that when it is really hard…when you close your eyes that’s what you see,” she noted.