Quade Cooper can be Bledisloe Cup X-factor: Michael Cheika
Michael Cheika believes Quade Cooper possesses an X-factor at the moment and says he would have no qualms with picking him alongside Will Genia for the first Bledisloe Cup match against the All Blacks.
The Wallabies boss will announce his match-day 23 on Thursday and it is the return of five European-based players – Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Matt Giteau – that has created more selection headaches than the June series against England.
Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley were the starting halves against England, but Genia is tipped to move into the halfback position he assumed in the World Cup final.
"There's no doubt the two halfbacks that are in the squad [Phipps and Genia] will share the role," Cheika said. "They've both got good experience and they're different types of players but they've both been training really well and it's been a good contest to be honest."
Cheika has spoken about how he likes to embed state-based combinations within his starting XV, particularly in the tight five, however he will have no set alliances when he names his team.
"I'm happy to move around there," Cheika said. "You're playing for Australia, you're in one team. We train together, we do everything together everyday, we've got good combinations and I don't rule out the possibility of them playing together either."
The "them" Cheika is referring to is Genia and Cooper, the latter of whom has had an indifferent time against Kiwis in recent years.
Picked for the Eden Park fixture last year despite not having featured in the game beforehand in Sydney, Cooper was exposed in the Wallabies' 41-13 loss in a match where he was also shown a yellow card for a high shot on halfback Aaron Smith while trying to prevent a try.
Twelve months on and Cheika likes what he sees from Cooper, who will return to Australian rugby next year, most likely for the Queensland Reds.
"He's definitely got X-factor, there's no doubt about that," Cheika said. "There's been areas of his game that he's been working really hard to improve on. [I've] been really pleased with him since he has returned
"He's been giving that at training… we need to be able to turn that positive stuff he's doing at training into the match in that intensity. I'm sure he can do that job if not a little more.
"Only he knows what's inside his own head but from what I've seen on the outside he's been looking really switched on. A few down bits, a few up bits, but more even than I've seen him before."
Cheika is renowned for keeping selections close to his chest, to the point that players are sometimes genuinely not sure where they will feature in the lead up to a test.
However, on this occasion, given the Wallabies have had more time together than usual in the lead-up to their Rugby Championship campaign, it is unlikely Cheika has not had a word to his backs about where they will feature.
"I'm not going to jumble them all up and then just lob them out on Saturday so they've been running a bit together," Cheika said.
"There's been good competition really with some of the guys coming back. It's presented us with a few different situations that we need to consider about pairings and they've competed hard against each other."
As for speaking about that World Cup defeat last year? Not on Cheika's watch.
"It's well and truly in the past and it was what it was then," he said. "We came up short and we've moved on. There's no bigger day than when you play New Zealand so I don't think we need to go back there for any motivation.
"There's plenty of motivation, just by pulling on the gold jersey and then we know we're playing against the best in the world so you've got to perform."