Wallabies coach Robbie Deans appears set to overlook Quade Cooper for the upcoming British and Irish Lions series with James O’Connor favoured to play five-eighth.
Cooper still looks on the outer with Deans as the controversial playmaker will not be among a 30-man Wallabies squad to gather for a two-day administration camp in Sydney on Sunday.
Even with incumbent Kurtley Beale currently out of the picture due to his indefinite suspension over alcohol issues, Cooper will stay in Brisbane as other number 10 contenders meet with Deans and the rest of the extended squad.
While he upset Deans and team-mates with claims of a toxic Wallabies environment last season, the 38-Test five-eighth’s omission remains a surprise.
Former Test coach Eddie Jones last week rated Cooper’s electric attacking game and X-factor as the best number 10 option to beat the Lions, while backline great Tim Horan has praised his recent form.
Earlier this season, Deans said Cooper would begin the year with a clean slate but also underlined he would select players who team-mates could rely upon under pressure.
The 24-year-old endured a mixed start to 2013 but has bounced back into form with the Queensland Reds following the recent return of Wallabies half-back Will Genia from his knee reconstruction.
Cooper confirmed on Wednesday he was not invited to the Sydney camp but was unfazed by the omission and focused on continuing his positive progress with the Reds.
He is not the only regular Wallabies player to miss the last of three logistics camps held during the Super Rugby season as Melbourne Rebels half-back Nick Phipps has been usurped by Brumbies number nine Nic White as Genia’s back-up.
With Beale currently out of the picture and injury-plagued Waratah Berrick Barnes sidelined, O’Connor appears set to regain the number 10 jersey he wore with distinction in the 2011 end-of-year tour.
Uncapped Brumbies playmaker Christian Lealiifano is seen as the next cab off the rank but he has played the bulk of 2013 at inside centre.
Despite the NSW Waratahs’ rocky start to 2013, they will still boast most of the players – including a full forward pack – currently among the country’s top 30.
Deans will name his initial 25-man squad for the three-Test Lions series on June 2, while five more will be added following the next weekend’s round of Super Rugby matches.
Cooper and others outside the current 30 can work their way into Test squad over the next eight rounds of Super Rugby, and he has a prime chance to show his worth on Saturday against the defending champion Chiefs.
Reds mentor Ewen McKenzie’s decision to position Cooper at full-back in defence has not helped his Wallabies’ cause but the coach has stressed it is best for the Reds’ kick-return attack, rather than an indictment on his tackling.
“People say he’s been up and down. I think he’s been getting better every week,” McKenzie said.
“I think he’s been more mature this year. There’s no doubt the partnership he’s got with Will is a great partnership and you get confidence out of that.”