Reds are Cooper’s focus

Quade Cooper has put Test selection to the back of his mind after insisting that today's clash between his Queensland Reds side and The British & Irish Lions is the only thing occupying his thoughts. [more]

Reds are Cooper’s focus

Quade Cooper has put Test selection to the back of his mind after insisting that today’s clash between his Queensland Reds side and The British & Irish Lions is the only thing occupying his thoughts.

Cooper was left out of the 25-man Qantas Wallabies squad named by Robbie Deans last month but could still be included among six additional players this Tuesday.

His international omission remains headline news over here in Australia but Cooper claims that he sees the chance to face the tourists with his home franchise as a huge opportunity in its own right regardless of what may or may not happen later this month.  

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to play against them. Not many people get to play against them at all,” said Cooper.

“It’s very important, not only for myself but everybody involved with the Queensland Reds jumper. It’s not just for us, it’s for rugby in general. It wouldn’t be doing the game or the jumper justice by thinking about things you can’t control.

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“I have a great chance to represent my state in the first outing against The Lions in Queensland in a long time. I’m sure that the rest of my team mates and the Queensland public are feeling the same.

“I’d still call it the business end of the tour for the guys who have this opportunity. You can only deal with the things that are in front of you – you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself and concentrate on things that may or may not happen.

“I’ll just enjoy this and I’ll call it the business end for myself and a lot of other players.”

Cooper will captain the Reds at the Suncorp Stadium having played in every minute of the Brisbane-based side’s Super XV campaign so far this season.

Having listened to him speak at yesterday’s pre-match press conference just yards from tunnel through which he will lead out the hosts in front of a sell-out crowd, it is clear that Cooper fully understands the honour associated with facing The Lions.

While he may not have grown up with the same knowledge of the tourists as his counterparts in Britain and Ireland, Cooper was taken aback by the last Lions adventure in Australia and is now looking forward to playing his part this time around.

“The history and tradition that surrounds The British & Irish Lions obviously speaks for itself, so it will be quite humbling to lead Queensland out on Saturday night,” added Cooper, whose last experience of captaincy was ironically at Churchie School, the venue for The Lions’ training session yesterday.

“It’s a proud moment anytime you get to lead a side but the fact that I’ve been at the Reds since I was 15 years old just adds to the occasion on a personal level and I’m really looking forward it.

“The Lions are also an extremely formidable opponent and one we have a huge amount of respect for. That respect just adds to why we are taking them so seriously.

“The build up is great. Just looking at the media build up, speaking to my cousin (Lions wing Sean Maitland) last night, picking him up from The Lions’ hotel and seeing the amount of luggage and things like that – I’ve seen the build up to what this game could be.

“There will be a lot of Lions supporters and a lot of Queensland supporters as well, so a lot of thanks goes to all the public who are going to turn out and watch what will hopefully be an exciting match.

“Hopefully, the game will live up to the standard in my mind of what the 2011 Super Rugby Grand Final was. That was one of the most amazing rugby games that I’ve been a part of. In terms of the outcome, the build up and also the way that it formed our team and the state together as a great rugby powerhouse.

“I remember watching The Lions in 2001 when were on the way up to the north for a rugby carnival. I was playing for Brisbane South U14s and we were watching it on the bus.

“It was an interesting concept because, as a young kid, I hadn’t really heard too much about it. Then just looking at the stadium and seeing how full it was with red jumpers when I thought it was meant to be a home Wallabies Test, seeing the support and the atmosphere around it, was something that made you wonder if you’d be playing professional rugby or would ever get the chance to play against them. Having the opportunity to play against them now just shows how far things have come.”

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Quade Cooper is likely to be in the thick of the action when the Reds take on The Lions in Brisbane

So what has Cooper thought of the current crop of Lions so far? And what type of challenge is he predicting the Reds will provide later today?

The answer to the first question is that he likes what he’s seen, but his reply to the second suggests Warren Gatland’s men will have a far, far tougher task on their hands than they did against the Barbarians and the Western Force.

“The Lions have been impressive, they've formed some great combinations in just two games, but the opposition probably hasn’t been up to the standard that they would have wanted.

"They bring a lot of physicality, but it's a tough ask to try and merge four different countries together with all the personalities, egos and different styles of play, so they’ve got a great task in front of them as well.

"We're looking to go out and put in an impressive performance and we've looked at how we can exploit the Lions pack and their team.

“The Lions will get a tough test from us for sure. It’s a great team we’re putting out there. We have a lot of belief and if we’re to continue to grow as people and a team then we have to give it a real go.”

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