Hi, and welcome to The Dead Ball Area. It’s been a troubled start to the season for the Queensland Reds, and there would have been high expectations on the return of Quade Cooper to the starting lineup. A lengthy break due to injury meant his first starts, against the Lions and Rebels, were always going to be interesting, And we’re going to have a look at some key components in his game. Starting with attack. As an attacking force their are few players in the world better than Cooper and his one on one skills are simply outstanding. Early in the Lions game he showed fantastic footwork to get past Dreyer and Coetzee, before flipping a pass to Slipper out the back. It’s impressive skills from a guy straight back from injury, and importantly shows he’s lost none of his confidence when it comes to taking defenders on. Later in the same game Coopers footwork is again front and center as he steps his way through the chasing defence. Again, it’s great skills. Cooper keeps the ball in two hands and once he’s offset the first defender it’s a case of maintaining his balance as weaves his way through. He does this by shifting his body weight backwards and out of the contact point allowing him to make those big steps around the players. It’s pure backyard Touch skills, and importantly it gets the Reds on the front foot. It all breaks down two phase later when Fainga’a drops a beautiful pass from Cooper. But that if it had stuck would have created a 2 vs 1. Coopers showboating is great entertainment, but the thing the Reds have desperately lacked is halfbacks with the ability to control the tempo and pattern of the game. Against the Lions the phase play didn’t really click, but that’s not through lack of trying, and we got a look at the speed and structure Cooper can bring to the attack 10 minutes into the first half. (Lions) Reds go off the top at the line out. And Cooper brings it to the tackle line, delaying the pass until the last moment, sending Kerevi into the midfield. Genia takes over running the phases and it becomes, loose and lateral, at which point Cooper again brings it to the line and sends Fainga’a into the gap Finally the move breaks down thanks to Glen Jackson’s deft hands, but I think we’re seeing some urgency and focus that has been missing from the Reds attack for too long. Here we again see Cooper bring it to the line, delay his pass and whip the ball out the back door to Kuridrani. As the Reds recycle we can see Cooper organising his runners and telling them exactly what he wants, but it breaks down when Schatz reacts too late to another delayed pass. but straight away we can see Cooper is trying to impose some genuine go forward structure, and it’s only little errors that mean it breaks down. A week later and it’s starting to flow nicely. We see Cooper running the attack right up on the tackle line. Playing a one, or two, out flow pattern that moves the Rebels first left and then right until the line break comes. It doesn’t look like the Reds are doing much here, but they are patient building pressure and importantly, not forcing it. It’s allowing teammate like Slipper and Horwill to get a head of steam and carry hard and close to the tackler. Eventually they get in behind the Rebels and 5 phases later Horwill crashes over for the try. For me the Reds look far more cohesive here than they have at any other stage this year, and I think a lot of that I think comes from Coopers ability to bring to the tackle line and pass late. Here we see Cooper and O’Connor combine as Cooper brings it to the line, and gives a lovely no look pass inside to O’Connor, the lines broken and it’s just unlucky that O’Connor can’t give the outside pass. The key here is that he has an inside and outside option, and that allows him to wait and pick his pass late. The move breaks down with a near intercept but we can see straight away Coopers ability to bring it to the line and decide under pressure causes defences problems. In this last clip the line it won against the throw and the reds move it wide quickly through O’Connor and Cooper It all goes a bit loose but once things settle down the Reds decide to hit it up and it’’s a superb carry from Browning to puncture the Lions tackle line and make a good 18 meters or so. It’s recycled nice and fast and the speed of the ball through Coopers hands is amazing, and after the next recycle the Reds rewind and we can see Cooper moves the Reds from one tram line to the other in two passes moving the Lions defence laterally so quickly that the defensive alignment is starting to bend as they chase the ball. It’s a good steal by the Lions but this shows how much speed Coopers passing brings to the Reds attack. His ability move his team across the park in two passes. it’s key to the Reds game plan, and is everything the Reds have been missing thus far. Defence is Coopers weakness and he gets a lot of criticism as a defender a lot of it justified. But as we see here, as with his attack, when faced with a simple yes/no decision he tends to do the right thing and put the man down. The problems start when he has to make decisions around shutting down multiple options and in that situation he tends to go for the scatter gun technique and just rush out trying to hit someone. Here we see him break the line. Which is fine, lots of teams run shooters, but he doesn’t really get himself into a position to make a tackle. and even though he covers back, rather than get himself back into the defensive line and make the extra man the reds need, he hits the ruck from an offside position taking him out of the game. A week later and we can see more bad decision making in defence as he breaks ranks to get himself back out to the flanks. Schatz has to step in and tell him not to leave space in the line – he’s then bumped of a two man tackle. It’s good play by Schatz who spots it straight away but it’s poor form from Cooper The Reds understand that it’s a fine balance though, and frequently take Cooper out of the front line opting for O’Connor to step in as their defensive 10. Cooper then slots in at 11 or runs as an auxiliary 15. We can see here O’Connor lined up at 10, and as the game unfolds the Lions box kick and Cooper comes into play as a 15. It’s a poor catch and he follows it up with a disappointing cheap shot on Minnie. So all in all not a perfect return to Super Rugby for Cooper in his first two games. But certainly not awful. I think expecting anything else would be extremely naive, but I do think we saw some glimpses of the structure and control Cooper can offer and I think he comes out of these two games with a lot of positives. It’s a real shame he’s now injured for the rest of the Super XV, it will have a huge impact on the Reds and their hopes of righting the apple cart. In regards to the Wallabies we’ll now need to see where he stands come the Rugby Championship. At present I’d still have picked Foley or Toomua ahead of Cooper, but I felt from the Lions to the Rebels we saw him simplify his game a lot and personally I’ve always felt Cooper was at his best when his decision making options were simplified and essentially boiled down to “do I pass or do I carry?”. I think when he follows that kind of game process he’s almost unstoppable. Thanks for watching and don’t forget to follow us on facebook and twitter.