James O’Connor played a steady hand at No.10 against the Highlanders. Photo: Rob JefferiesQuade Cooper may not be able to run out against the Waratahs but could yet play an influential role on Saturday night in Brisbane,the former Wallaby playmaker working behind the scenes to sharpen up Reds No.10 James O’Connor.
Cooper was the highest-profile casualty of a costly pre-season at Ballymore, breaking his collarbone in a contact drill and missing the first half of the Super Rugby campaign.
While halfback Will Genia has stepped up his game to help fill the playmaking void, replacing a first-choice 10 hasn’t been a simple task for coach Richard Graham, with Duncan Paia’aua, Nick Frisby and Karmichael Hunt all used at various stages in the opening three games.
O’Connor was solid in his first outing for the Reds since returning to Australia, playing a steady hand in the loss against the Highlanders in a performance on which he can build heading into the interstate derby.
His running game looked dangerous enough but has conceded aspects of his tactical kicking need improvement, a fact noted almost immediately after the match and a focus of the Reds work during this week.
Part of that discussion includes Cooper, who the Reds rate highly as an on-field thinker and who has been engaged to work with O’Connor this week to help refine his game for the Waratahs.
O’Connor is hardly a novice at 10, having played there for his country, but Cooper’s balanced input could prove vital as the Reds try to upset the defending Super Rugby champions.
Graham said Cooper had been a valuable contributor around the team during his injury layoff and O’Connor, as well as the other options at 10, could reap the benefits.
“Quade hasn’t been able to contribute on the field given his injury but his contribution around the team has been very valuable, particularly around the 10s. He’s demonstrated in the past four or five weeks that he enjoys being around the team and engaging with the players,” Graham said.
He said Cooper had been working with O’Connor but had been careful not to detract from the former Rebel’s natural game.
“He’s been very good but he also understands the balance between offering some advice and trying to drown people in detail,” Graham said.
The Reds remain on track to have James Horwill fit after suffering a nasty gash to the hand against the Western Force while bullocking young centre Samu Kerevi is likely to overcome a cork suffered against the Highlanders.
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