SYDNEY, May 20 (Reuters) - The loss of Queensland Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper for four months to a shoulder injury has left Australia looking a bit threadbare in a position where they have traditionally boasted an embarrassment of riches.
Cooper has started the last 10 matches for the Wallabies, having revived his test career after being dropped for last year’s British and Irish Lions series and starting the first two matches of the Ewen McKenzie era on the bench.
Wallabies coach McKenzie names his squad for June’s three-match series against France on Thursday and now has just one player available who has started a test in the number 10 jersey and is currently playing flyhalf in Super Rugby.
The good news is that Matt Toomua, who won his first two caps as playmaker in thumping defeats to the All Blacks last year, was the form Australian flyhalf in Super Rugby even before Cooper was injured.
The bad news, on the face of it, is that behind him now as a specialist there lies probably only Bernard Foley, who has been in fine form for the New South Wales Waratahs but has played only 15 minutes at flyhalf in four tests.
By contrast, in the run-up to last year’s Lions series, Cooper was just one of a string of options available to then coach Robbie Deans with Kurtley Beale, James O‘Connor, Berrick Barnes, Christian Leali‘ifano all also genuine contenders.
O‘Connor got the nod but his test career imploded on the back of a string of off-field incidents and he has appropriately played his rugby in England this season with the Exiles - London Irish.
Barnes, who played 12 of his 51 tests at flyhalf, has also departed Australian shores, in his case for Japan, while Leali‘ifano and Beale have been playing in the centres for their Super Rugby teams this season.
More good news for McKenzie, though, is the versatility of the modern Australian back and the form of Beale after a largely miserable year on and off the field in 2013.
Beale, who has started seven of his 39 tests as pivot, effectively plays as one of two first receivers at the Waratahs with Foley and his combination with the prolific Israel Folau has been one of the highlights of the campaign.
With Leali‘ifano operating in a similar role alongside Toomua at the ACT Brumbies, McKenzie should be able to wear the absence of his former charge at the Reds without too many problems.
In fact, with Toomua in good form and Cooper and the Reds struggling this season, the injury may conceivably have spared McKenzie a tricky conversation with his incumbent number 10. (Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)