Wessels praises composed Cooper, Brumbies sweat on injured trio

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

UPDATED: Rebels coach Dave Wessels lauded new flyhalf Quade Cooper's composure in a 34-27 win over the Brumbies while the ACT side were left to contemplate a high-profile injury list headlined by star flanker David Pocock.

The Rebels trailed by three points at the break but with the wind at their back in the second, the game opened up for the visitors and Cooper was a key part of that.

In his first competitive Super Rugby game since 2017, the 30-year-old directed the Rebels attack with composure and opened up opportunities for his teammates.

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Cooper's reputation for unpredictability precedes him but it was his composure that Rebels coach Dave Wessels and captain Dane Haylett-Petty praised post-match.

"I thought Quade was great. I thought Willy G was great as well, Billy Meakes as well," Wessels said post-match.

"I think Quade, he's had a lot of pressure on him coming into this game to be fair and he just showed what a world-class player he is because he didn't do anything that he made up on the spot, he played to a framework that he's helped create, that he believes in and I think he enjoyed himself out there.

"He's probably a once in a generation player, he can do some things that you just like, "how did that happen?".

"I thought more than that he had a sense of the tempo of the game.

"He knew when to speed it up, when to slow it down. That's something that he'll get with experience. I think having a 10 who has a relationship with a nine in that way is going to be pretty valuable for us."

The Brumbies found dominance in the scrum, with loosehead James Slipper impressive on debut, and their rolling maul proved to be their most reliable weapon, generating two of their four tries for the night.

David Pocock lasted just five minutes. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyThey will be sweating on their list of wounded, though, after the early exits of Pocock (concussion), Toni Pulu (eye) and Henry Speight (hip) didn’t help the pain of an opening loss.

Pulu's facial injury looks the most serious, according to coach Dan McKellar, but they won't be taking any undue risks with Pocock after a series of neck issues hindered his 2018 season.

"I'm still to talk to Dave," he said.

"He failed his HIA so there's a concussion there and he's obviously had a concussion on Spring Tour as well so we'll manage him and deal with what's in the best interests of Dave.

"Poor old Toni Pulu looks like he's got a cheekbone injury that looks pretty serious and then Henry Speight with a hip pointer. So, you lose your two wingers, it threw us out of whack a little bit."

Pocock lasted less than six minutes in the opener after collecting a stray Haylett-Petty elbow in an attempted tackle.

Pulu was off four minutes later after a clash with Melbourne centre Meakes and Speight was icing up his hip just after half-time, leaving the outside back department somewhat depleted.

Locky McCaffrey was a standout for the Brumbies in Pocock's absence, in tandem with Wallaby Pete Samu, while Tevita Kuridrani also made an impact in his first Super Rugby match after injuring his pectoral muscle in July last year.


Though the Brumbies had pushed towards expansive rugby early it was no surprise to see their rolling maul generate the first Australian try of the year through Folau Faingaa in the 13th minute adding to a Christian Lealiifano penalty.

Rebels centre Tom English finished off the first real Rebels’ attack just a minute later to cap off a passage generated by halfback Will Genia, who didn’t miss a beat despite sitting out the side’s trials.

Jack Maddocks pounced on a poor Irae Simone grubber to score the Rebels’ second and give the visitors the lead for the first time of the game but the Brumbies were able to return serve through Rory Arnold to snuff out that momentum.

It was Genia again who set up the Rebels’ third, with some smart recycles putting Matt Philip over for a short-range score in the 33rd minute.

It took the Brumbies mere seconds two cut out the Rebels’ lead this time, with Allan Alaalatoa barging over in their first chance from the restart.

Tevita Kuridrani had a solid return to Super rugby. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyThe Rebels had two close chances in first four minutes of the second half with Meakes held up over the line and then a Genia forward pass costing Maddocks a double.

Maddocks had another go at scoring but it was Anaru Rangi who got the score as the hooker burst from nowhere to snatch back the lead.

While the Brumbies scrum dominated proceedings, their usually trusty lineout let them down with two late losses costing them chances to hit back on the scoreboard.


Cooper extended the lead with a late penalty and Maddocks finally had his double, collecting a cross-field Meakes kick to seemingly seal the game.

Brumbies lock Sam Carter had the final say of the night with a rolling maul try but it wasn’t enough to snatch a last-gasp win.

Both sides left scoring opportunities go begging and McKellar said the Brumbies would be looking to rectify those basic mistakes before their round two clash against the Chiefs

"We want the boys to use their skill and back themselves but we've also got to understand there's moments where we look back and (ask) can we just maintain possession and keep the pressure on instead of throwing that 50/50 pass that isn't potentially on.

"But I thought there was some really good signs in the attack in patches, it was just that last pass probably hurt us off the top of my head probably three times."

The Rebels have a round two bye before taking on the Highlanders in week three.

RESULT

Brumbies 27

Tries: Faingaa, Arnold, Alaalatoa, Carter

Cons: Lealiifano 2

Pens: Lealiifano

Rebels 34

Tries: Maddocks 2, English, Philip, Rangi

Cons: Cooper 3

Pens: Cooper