Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Cooper relishing new Wallabies role

James Horwill has been replaced as Australia captain by Ben Mowen for this weekend's Test against England.

Australia fly-half Quade Cooper has outlined the growing maturity that has elevated him from Wallabies outcast to vice-captain.

Cooper branded the national set-up under former coach Robbie Deans "toxic" little over a year ago, resulting in the end of his Test career under the Kiwi.

The 25-year-old playmaker was overlooked for the British and Irish Lions matches, but his fortunes reversed when Deans was sacked and replaced by Cooper's Queensland Reds mentor Ewen McKenzie.

Once known as one of the 'Three Amigos' alongside Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor - the trio each have a history of off-field misdemeanors - he is now viewed as a senior player.

When James Horwill was stripped of the captaincy for Saturday's clash with England at Twickenham, it was Cooper and not Will Genia named vice-captain to Ben Mowen.

"When I was out of the team for a long period I looked at the things that are most important in my life and where rugby sat in that," Cooper said.

"Away from the game how you act as a person, how you act as a family man, those things roll into how you act as a player in and around the team.

"The more you can contribute, the more that seems to rub off on your team-mates and it sends a good perception of you out to the wider public as well.

"It's something that's an ongoing process. You've got to continue to work at that and not nod off and say, 'I've made it this far and that's enough'.

"I'm human so I had those thoughts of whether I'd play for Australia again.

"I've got a pretty good life when you look at it. When you look at some other people's lives, sometimes they have a much harder life than you do.

"So you've got to look at what you have and be grateful for it. That's all I'm doing now, which is different to me a few years ago.

"Sometimes you think you could be hard done by but you've got to move forward and work as hard as you can to block those things out.

"Do the right thing and more often than not the right thing happens to you."

Cooper is delighted to have been made vice-captain.

"I was a bit speechless, you don't really know what to say and you just accept it," he said.

"There was a great deal of happiness, but at the same time you had to move on and get into training.

"To get the vice-captaincy next to your name is something I see as being pretty special."

McKenzie said Horwill's slump in form was the reason behind his decision to strip him of the role he performed against the Lions.

"There's no doubting James is a world-class leader, but it's important he puts his personal performance first and plays to the level we know he's capable of on a weekly basis," McKenzie said.

"By his own lofty standards, James would admit he hasn't been on peak form so we've made the decision to remove the added pressures and responsibilities of being a captain so that he can focus entirely on bringing his 'A' game.

"Decisions like these are never easy, but sometimes you need to make hard choices for the long-term benefit of the individual.

"A strong individual performance will be the best contribution he can make to this game."

It has been suggested Horwill would have been dropped altogether but for a knee injury sustained by lock Rob Simmons in training.

Mowen made his Test debut against the Lions in June and will captain Australia for the second time after being at the helm for the 14-13 Rugby Championship victory over Argentina.

Matt Toomua has been preferred at inside centre ahead of Christian Leali'ifano, wing Nick Cummins is back after recovering from a broken hand and Scott Fardy comes in at blindside flanker after overcoming an eye problem.

Australia team: I Folau (NSW Waratahs); A Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs), T Kuridrani (ACT Brumbies), M Toomua (ACT Brumbies), N Cummins (Western Force); Q Cooper (Queensland Reds, vice-captain), W Genia (Queensland Reds); J Slipper (Queensland Reds), S Moore (ACT Brumbies), B Alexander (ACT Brumbies), S Timani (NSW Waratahs), J Horwill (Queensland Reds), S Fardy (ACT Brumbies), M Hooper (NSW Waratahs), B Mowen (ACT Brumbies, captain).

Replacements: S Fainga'a (Queensland Reds), B Robinson (NSW Waratahs), S Kepu (NSW Waratahs), K Douglas (NSW Waratahs), B McCalman (Western Force), N White (ACT Brumbies), C Leali'ifano (ACT Brumbies), B Foley (NSW Waratahs).

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