The return of James O’Connor and the form of Quade Cooper could spell bad news for Wallabies fullback Tom Banks.
Former Wallabies fullback Chris Latham says room must be made in Australia’s starting backline for both Quade Cooper and James O’Connor, with current custodian Tom Banks shaping as the fall guy.
Banks has started at fullback in all of the Wallabies seven Tests this year despite mixed reviews about his performances.
However, with Cooper starring at flyhalf in his return to Test rugby after a four-year absence in Australia’s 28-26 weekend win over South Africa, and the Wallabies’ former No.10 O’Connor being fit again after a long injury-enforced absence. Latham wants them both in the team for Saturday’s return Rugby Championship bout with the Springboks at Suncorp Stadium.
O’Connor’s versatility has him more than capable of playing at fullback, with his ability to stick to a structure as well as play some ad-lib football making him an attractive proposition.
“With Quade played playing so well at 10 I couldn’t see that being changed,” Latham said.
“Whilst I understand the importance of structure, also you need that unpredictability in your team as well.
“You need those players that can play unpredictable rugby within the structure. I thought that was the difference that Quade brought.
“He made the Boks sit back and watch and look because they just didn’t know what he was going to do, but he still played very well within the structure whilst doing that.
“Having O’Connor, another strike weapon out there, (inside centre) Samu (Kerevi) with that direct running and to offload, and that ability to ball play as well, that mix will just make the Boks think ‘if we rush, we’re going to get hurt, so we have to wait’ and then you get that indecision, and that’s where opportunities start.”
Latham, who made 78 appearances for the Wallabies from 1998 to 2007 and played at three World Cups, said it would be a tough, but perhaps necessary, call to leave out Banks, who has looked unconvincing under the high ball.
“I’ve been in that position myself over the years with certain players coming and going,” he said.
“We knew going into that game last week that the Springboks were going to kick a lot of high balls, and it was going to take us to be on our game on every one of those to defuse that, we “It’s just one of those cut-throat positions that each week if you’re not on that 100 per cent level and you’ve got someone like O’Connor or someone else in the mix, there’s that opportunity for them that they’re going to try that.”
Former Wallabies flyhalf and inside centre Elton Flatley backed Latham’s call for O’Connor to play at fullback to ensure both he and Cooper started together.
“We know James is a world-class play when fit, so if he’s fit and ready to get out there, like Quade he’s got that experience and he’s got the know-how to play Test rugby,” Flatley said.
“He’d go out and definitely do a job in the 15 jersey.”
Flatley, whose 38 Tests included the 2003 World Cup final, was pleasantly surprised with Cooper’s weekend performance, which included eight from eight with the boot, one coming after the siren to win the match for Australia.
“For Quade to not play international rugby for four years and come back the way he did was tremendous,” Flatley said.
“I didn’t think he’s go that well but he’s physically in fantastic nick, and he was rock solid. You couldn’t fault him. I was really happy for him.”