Brian Ashton: Cooper is Wallabies' Maradona and can set the World Cup alight

Tackling the issues

Candidates for team of the week? Exeter, triumphant on their Premiership debut, were certainly among them, having sent notice to the rest of the top flight that Sandy Park will be no holiday zone this season.

Northampton, comprehensive winners in their derby contest with Leicester, also caught the eye – especially in the front row, where Soane Tonga'uiha, Dylan Hartley and Brian Mujati delivered excellent performances in both tight and loose. Had Stephen Myler been in any sort of kicking form, they would have put 40 points past the meanest defence in the country.

But I hope enthusiastic followers of the club game in England will forgive me if I nominate the Wallabies as the pick of the bunch. Their Tri-Nations victory over the Springboks in Bloemfontein was one of those high-scoring affairs increasingly in evidence on the far side of the Equator: they just about shaded the decision in an 80-point encounter, even though Victor Matfield, the South African lock, made the play of the game with a barely credible run/chip/off-load routine to create a try for Jaque Fourie. (If I'm honest, I can't remember Nigel Redman pulling that sort of stunt during our time together at the Recreation Ground in Bath!) I'll say here and now that the Australians will pose a definite threat at next year's World Cup.

They are playing a challenging brand of rugby that is confrontational in all the right ways: quick-thinking, ambitious, unfailingly positive. Judging by the number of quick throws they take, they must spend less time practising line-outs than anyone in the international game. As for their scrum, the subject of much derisive comment when England toured down there in June... well, it has improved out of all recognition in the space of a few weeks. Benn Robinson's return at loose-head prop has made a big difference, and with the hooker Stephen Moore back in business alongside him, they are far more combative in this department.

Together with the lock Mark Chisholm, these individuals have brought a different level of physicality to the Wallaby act up front. They were certainly prepared to mix it with the Boks in the loose – never the easiest way of spending an afternoon – and with two or three key forwards still working through their rehabilitation after serious injury, there is surely more to come.

The point is this: if the Wallaby pack can provide a reasonably steady supply of decent possession, there is a man in midfield who can maximise its value. I'm not talking of Matt Giteau on this occasion. My man of the moment is Quade Cooper, who has everyone dancing to his tune right now. He's not quite a one-man show – to describe him in those terms would be unfair to a number of other vibrant backs – but the outside-half boasts a skill-set that puts him in the "nightmare" category as far as opposition defences are concerned.

He's not the greatest tackler in the world, and this one weakness would render him off-limits in the eyes of many international selectors. But Robbie Deans, the Wallaby coach, prefers to see the good things in his resident maverick, and his decision to persevere with him is beginning to pay very handsome dividends. Cooper is one of those rare instinctive sportsmen who not only have the ability to make the ball talk, but also have a sixth sense when it comes to weighing up a situation in a split second and picturing all the possibilities. He reminds me of a brilliant attacking midfield player in football – one of those Diego Maradona types blessed both with 360-degree vision and the weaponry to make it count.

Cooper is impossible to second-guess. What is more, he has the mental toughness that separates the best from the rest. He places great demands on himself, choosing to play right up there in the firing line, where he can see the whites of his opponents' eyes. Even when things go wrong for him, as they occasionally must for someone playing rugby this way, he has the confidence and strength of character to keep doing what he does. It does not occur to him to seek a hiding place, and that makes him special.

To my mind, Deans has handled him brilliantly. And remember, Cooper is still relatively inexperienced at Test level. As he closes in on his first World Cup, there will be fewer off-days and an increasing number of sensational ones. In 12 months' time, when it really matters, we'll be counting him among the two or three most dangerous players in the sport.

Short and sweet is training mantra

I was interested to read the thoughts of the Bath prop David Flatman in his Independent on Sunday column last weekend. He told how the training at Bath had become shorter, sharper and more intense, rarely lasting more than an hour. There is clear value in this. The All Blacks abandoned long, drawn-out sessions years ago, largely because they were utterly irrelevant to rugby as it is played on match day. For too many years, too many coaches have trotted out the same old stuff, keeping their players on the practice pitch "until they get it right". It's nonsense. A game lasts 80 minutes, and when the final whistle goes, that's your lot: no second chances, no having another shot at it, no "getting it right before we go". Training should always reflect match situations. Anything else is pointless.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape