James O’Connor’s groin injury will prevent the No 10 travelling to New Zealand and with border restrictions set to play havoc with the Wallabies’ upcoming test campaign, Rennie has done the unthinkable by bringing back the 70-test playmaker back into an Australian squad.
Cooper, who recently revealed he has had his application for Australian citizenship turned down four times, will travel to New Zealand with the rest of the team on Friday.
NSW-based No 10s Will Harrison and Ben Donaldson would not have been able to make it to New Zealand for next month’s first match against New Zealand.
Wallabies sources told the Sydney Morning Herald that Cooper will travel with the team to New Zealand in a stunning return to the national set-up.
Rennie and Cooper organised a 90-minute meeting this week to discuss the prospect of returning in a training capacity, given the logistical headache of bringing players in from around the country.
The Wallabies coach wanted to get clarity around Cooper’s head space and whether he was interested in coming back to mentor a young squad.
While Cooper would be an outside chance to play for the Wallabies in the August 7 Bledisloe opener, given Noah Lolesio’s performances in the France series, the 33-year-old will be in the wider squad and could be parachuted in if an injury occurred.
It’s an extraordinary situation given Cooper is in Australia on a break from his duties in Japan and hasn’t played a test since 2017.
Cooper is said to be extremely eager to train with the group given O’Connor’s injury. He arrived in Wallabies camp in Sunday evening, where he introduced himself to new squad members.
Rennie revealed earlier on Sunday the Wallabies are likely to play back-to-back Bledisloe Cup games in New Zealand next month after announcing a 42-man squad containing the shock selection of France-based former Reds playmaker Duncan Paia’aua.
The COVID-induced uncertainty around borders and trans-Tasman travel was a strong theme in Rennie’s squad naming on Sunday, which saw uncapped Paia’aua become the first ‘Giteau Law’ pick of his tenure and Izack Rodda also recalled from exile.
The Wallabies have received a provisional green light to sidestep the New Zealand government’s closure of the Trans-Tasman bubble. Rennie told media on Sunday he understood there would not be a need for his Queensland-based squad to quarantine upon arrival, providing they continue to test every two days and register no positives.
The original Bledisloe Cup schedule had game one in Auckland on August 7, before games in Perth (August 21) and Wellington (August 28). But to minimise travel, Rennie revealed the new plan appears to be playing the second game in Wellington on August 14.
“Nothing is confirmed and there have been a lot of scenarios throw out,” Rennie said. “In the end we are prepared to play on the 7th and 14th in New Zealand and then go to Perth on the 21st, if that’s what’s deemed best. Our mindset is that to win the Bledisloe you have to win at least one of the two in New Zealand to give yourself a chance in Perth, so nothing changes really.”