Loose Pass

Date published: July 29 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with questions about Quade, a not so clever Todd and the beaming All Blacks.

Questions for Quade

Aussie playmaker Quade Cooper is clearly not one for a quiet life.

Whether it is firing a high-risk pass behind his back or posting an expletive-laden outburst on social media, he is never far from the headlines – and that's just this past weekend.

But his decision to perform a high-profile u-turn on a move to French giants Toulon in favour of a new deal with the Australian Rugby Union that will reportedly allow him to chase Sevens gold at next year's Olympics in Rio is just as stunning as any move Cooper has conjured on the pitch.

The deal has yet to be officially announced by the ARU with Cooper perhaps still coming to terms with the embarrassment he faces when it is confirmed.

Many will remember that earlier this year he was photographed shaking hands with Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal and wearing the club shirt after putting pen to paper on a lucrative contract.

It is clearly not Cooper's finest hour but he is allowed to change his mind – he just has to deal with the consequences.

Boudjellal has accused the ARU of dirty tricks and entering into talks with a player who had already committed his playing future overseas.

The outspoken Toulon president will have already been irked by the ARU's decision to change their selection policy to allow players based overseas to be picked for the Wallabies.

Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell were signed by Toulon in the belief that their Test careers were over and they would not be missing during international windows but they have since been welcomed back into the Wallabies' fold.

Boudjellal is understandably intent on claiming compensation having started to build a squad around Cooper, sold shirts and season tickets on the back of his recruitment and more importantly passed up other potential fly-halves believing that spot in his plans was filled.

But the ARU insist their negotiations with the player have been 'ongoing' and if anyone is going to have to pay up it is Cooper and his management team. Time to get the cheque book out lads.

The reason behind the ARU's apparent willingness to ruffle a few feathers to keep hold of one of their most talented players was perhaps clear in Brisbane earlier this month when a crowd of just 37,633 turned out for the Rugby Championship clash with South Africa.

That game was just one of two home games for the Wallabies this season yet they failed to sell out the 52,500 seater Suncorp Stadium – one the great sporting arenas in the world.

A capacity crowd at the same venue for the 2015 State of Origin decider a fortnight before will have caused some concern for ARU officials but not quite as much as a recent pre-season football clash between Brisbane Roar and Premier League side Liverpool that also attracted a near sell-out crowd to Suncorp.

Rugby union faces fierce competition for the Australian sports fan's allegiance and more importantly their dollars. Rugby league and Aussie Rules continues to tower over their sporting rivals while football looms increasingly large for rugby union officials.

The ARU is painfully aware of this and know that they need to secure the services of players who can deliver the entertainment they prize so highly and get the turnstiles spinning on a regular basis.

Like the recently-signed superstar Israel Folau, Cooper falls into this category despite his perceived shortcomings.

His ability to generate a following and a reaction as readily as a defence splitting pass is worth a fortune to the ARU – and worth the aggravation his signing may also bring.

Not so clever Todd

“The biggest thing for me is: Don't disappoint your team-mates,” said former USA Eagles captain Todd Clever in an interview with ESPN The Magazine last month. “Whatever it is, whether it's training or playing, you don't want to let them down.”

Just a few short weeks later the 63-Test veteran who currently plays his club rugby in Japan was axed from the Eagles' squad for 'multiple squad conduct violations'.

What is that saying about talking a good game?

Clever may have a wealth of experience under his belt – he was a member of the Eagles' 2003, 2007 and 2011 World Cup squads – and arguably be his country's most high-profile players and the face of USA Rugby for over a decade but coach Mike Tolkin cut him loose for missing a couple of team sessions and failing to adhere to a warning about his conduct.

This series of events came after Clever was stripped of the captaincy as the Eagles' World Cup preparations stepped up a gear under the leadership of Saracens' Chris Wyles.

It is certainly a brave move from Tolkin who, like England coach Stuart Lancaster, is determined to preserve the team culture he has been fostering during his tenure. It is a reminder that no-one is bigger than the team itself. 

The USA responded well with victory over World Cup pool rivals Japan in their latest Pacific Nations Cup encounter at the weekend and talk within the camp is of a strong World Cup showing with a couple of scalps in their sights – they also face South Africa, Scotland and Samoa in the pool stages.

It is a clear sign of the Eagles' growing confidence and stature. They enter this World Cup with unprecedented strength in depth and Tolkin's fears of a significant void in the squad may have also been eased by the imminent arrival in camp of Toulon powerhouse Samu Manoa – a player primed to take Clever's crown as USA Rugby's poster boy.

For the love of the game

Did you see the joy on the All Blacks' faces after their clever lineout move against South Africa led to another Rugby Championship try for captain Richie McCaw?

They were simply bursting with joy having taken a move from training ground to the Test match arena and fooled their fierce rivals at a crucial moment in the game.

“It was just a variation of an old song,” was coach Steve Hansen's take on the try in reference to the famous lineout move that carried prop Tony Woodcock over for a try in New Zealand's 2011 Rugby World Cup final victory over France.

Samoa clearly have the same musical taste having caught the Boks napping with the same move not so long ago which will be a cause for concern for Heyneke Meyer and co. Check it out here.

 It is the All Blacks' desire to excel, to keep their rivals guessing and their ability to execute under pressure that has laid the foundation for New Zealand's dominance of the international stage and they must be saluted for clocking up an incredible total of 10 years as the number one ranked team in the world this week.

The All Blacks' current reign at the top of the pile dates back to 2009 and in this kind of clinical form it is set to continue for some time yet – and maybe McCaw's try-scoring hot streak.

Loose Pass is compiled by former scrum.com editor Graham Jenkins

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