Genia, Cooper partnership gives Cheika World Cup alternatives

Genia, Cooper partnership gives Cheika World Cup alternatives
FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - England v Australia - Twickenham Stadium, London, Britain - November 24, 2018 Australia's Will Genia gestures during the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs/File Photo -
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SYDNEY (Reuters) - The resurrection of Will Genia and Quade Cooper's inside backs pairing paid dividends for the Melbourne Rebels on Friday and commentators said the partnership may also give Wallabies coach Michael Cheika options ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

With Genia and Cooper reunited at Super Rugby level for the first time in four years, the Rebels scored a 34-27 victory over the Brumbies in Canberra in their season opener.

It was Cooper's first Super Rugby appearance since 2017 after he was frozen out by Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn last year and the 30-year-old did not disappoint on his return.

Former Wallabies fullback Greg Martin said it was the most commanding performance by an Australian flyhalf for three years, while Rebels coach Dave Wessels said he had proved his worth in his signing on a one-year contract.

"(Cooper is) probably a once-in-a-generation player, he can do some things that make you go 'gee, how did that happen," Wessels told reporters.

"He played to a framework that he's helped create, that he believes in, and I think he enjoyed himself out there."

The pairing with his old Reds' team mate Genia no doubt eased his return, having spent all of 2018 playing lower-level club rugby in Brisbane.

The pair had developed a superb partnership with the Wallabies and at the Reds, which led to their only Super Rugby title in 2011.

A knee injury at the 2011 World Cup sidelined Cooper for more than six months, however, and it appeared to shake his confidence, with the flyhalf subsequently seldom seen taking on the defensive line or creating any doubt.

He was gradually surpassed by Bernard Foley as the Wallabies' first-choice flyhalf and last played for the national side as a replacement in the centres against Italy in 2017.

On Friday, however, the flyhalf ran hard and straight at the defence and hit the ball flat, giving his side the speed of game and momentum they were able to feed off.

The Rebels also looked the more enterprising of the two sides with Cooper and Genia driving them around the park.

Cooper's defensive frailties were still evident, however, and he was again dropped back to fullback when the Brumbies had the ball. He also missed three tackles and was penalised for a high tackle on Pete Samu.

Despite the defensive flaws Wallabies coach Cheika, who has no natural alternative to Foley in the number 10 jersey, would have noted how assured Cooper looked after his long absence, something that was spotted by commentator Rod Kafer.

"How he's managed the rugby match, he hasn't over played his hand," the former Wallabies utility back said.

"He hasn't tried to do too much. He's been a distributor, he's taken the ball at the line, he's got the guys outside him running straight, running hard — he's doing exactly what his coach wants him to do."

(Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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