Rugby World Cup: Is Quade Cooper set to start at fullback?

Quade Cooper. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Quade Cooper. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Coach Robbie Deans says Quade Cooper could start at fullback with Berrick Barnes at five-eighth if Kurtley Beale is ruled out of Sunday's Rugby World Cup semifinal against the All Blacks.

Australia's most dangerous attacker all campaign, Beale needs scans to determine the extent of the hamstring injury that caused him to limp off during Sunday's epic quarterfinal win over South Africa.

Shortlisted for world player of the year honours in 2010, Beale had to sit out Australia's last pool game against Russia because of a hamstring twinge and has been nursed through the tournament since.

The 23-year-old only trained twice, including a light captain's run before the Springboks showdown, but looked unaffected when he made a typically dynamic 40m run against the Boks in Wellington.

He lasted 75 minutes but was hobbling noticeably when replaced.

Deans and his medical staff are confident he hasn't torn his hamstring but anxiously await the result of his MRI on Tuesday.

While centre Pat McCabe - who produced a mighty defensive effort in his first game back from a shoulder dislocation - was recovering well on Monday after being replaced in 53rd minute against South Africa, prop Sekope Kepu, like Beale, was booked for a scan after rolling his ankle.

"First reports are that it's not syndesmosis, which is a good starting point because that's the sinister ankle injury," Deans said.

"Pat (McCabe) is good. The strength has come back quickly. He got a couple of `stingers' and he obviously wasn't comfortable at the time, so we withdrew him from the game at that point but he's recovered very well."

Deans was hopeful over Kepu and Beale, but said the Wallabies at least had options if they should be ruled out.

Should Beale fail to recover in time, the most obvious option would be to play either Adam Ashley-Cooper at fullback and bring Anthony Faingaa into the centres, or use James O'Connor at No 15 and give Lachie Turner a shot on the wing.

But with Barnes once again providing great impact and experience off the bench in the tense closing stages on Sunday, Australia's one-time vice-captain looms as a possibility to assume the chief playmaking duties.

Cooper had an off day in Wellington, kicking poorly, making a series of handling errors and generally looking uncertain.

Asked on Monday if he would consider starting Cooper at fullback, where the brilliant attacker usually defends, and alternating him with Barnes, Deans said: "Yeah, well we've seen that already in games. There's a number of possibilities."

Wherever Cooper plays, though, Deans - who denied he'd placed the shackles on his kick-happy charges against the Boks - was backing the Wallabies' mercurial star to bounce back.

"He's a pretty resilient character. Clearly he wouldn't have been happy with his performance, but everybody made mistakes," the coach said.

"Some of our best made mistakes, but collectively they worked their way through it."
Deans will name his semi-final line-up on Friday and won't be rushing into any decisions or pushing his battered and bruised charges too hard in the meantime.

"It was pretty evident that that was an exchange that was out of the ordinary (on Sunday). So we'll recover and monitor that stuff very closely," he said.

"We'll make sure we get back to where we need to be before we put any physical stress or demands on the group and we'll be ready to go by the weekend."

- AAP

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