It might not just be Quade Cooper’s season that is over, but his World Cup dream too.
The 34-year-old playmaker, who took no part in the 2-1 series defeat to England after hurting his calf in the warm-up before the opening Test in Perth, has suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during the Wallabies’ 41-26 win over Los Pumas in Argentina.
The devastating injury blow is expected to see him miss the rest of the season and will likely see him miss the majority of the Japan League One season.
It’s a shocking blow for the playmaker, who last September resurrected his career by leading the Wallabies to five straight victories.
The injury, which can take up to a year to get back on the field, is a double whammy because at his age, in his position, few players rediscover their speed.
Even if he does recover in time, Cooper will have no form to go off.
While Cooper showed last year, and again in stages in Argentina, that he can perform without any game-time to play off, picking him off no form, particularly in a World Cup year, would be a major punt going forward.
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In the interim Dave Rennie has some options moving forward.
Both Noah Lolesio and James O’Connor are in Argentina, while Reece Hodge stepped in at No.10 following Cooper’s injury.
Given Lolesio wore the No.10 jersey in all three Tests against England, the 22-year-old is favoured to start against the Pumas next weekend.
But in a side missing so much experience, including regular captain Michael Hooper, O’Connor’s leadership could see him preferred.
It would also allow him to resume his partnership with Hunter Paisami, who helped set-up the Wallabies’ bonus point win as he sent Len Ikitau in to score.
Cooper’s injury also turns the focus back on who will be the No.10 at the World Cup, which is just 13 months away.
Not only will the 2011 Super Rugby-winner be long odds to m
ake it to the tournament in France, questions remain over O’Connor’s durability.
The 32-year-old has struggled to string Tests together and the likelihood of him getting through a World Cup campaign unscathed is remote.
Lolesio has shown he can deliver, including from the kicking tee, but consistency and tempo remain his big work-ons.
The issue the Wallabies face is that they have a talented crop of youngsters between the age of 18 to 23 ranging from Tom Lynagh to Ben Donaldson.
The Wallabies could follow France’s lead from 2019 and target their home World Cup four years’ later, or return to Bernard Foley who had a strong season in Japan.
Despite playing behind a modest roster, Foley led the Kubota Spears to the semi-finals of the Japan League One competition.
It’s believed the 32-year-old still has ambitions of playing for the Wallabies again despite turning down the invitation to re-join the squad ahead of last year’s Rugby Championship.
That hasn’t helped his chances of a call-up, but Foley has the experience and durability to get through to a World Cup.
His frustrating campaign in 2019 wasn’t helped by the sporadic and indecisive nature of Australia’s selection panel, who were divided in who should wear the No.10 jersey.
In the end Michael Cheika threw Foley in the deep end despite precious few minutes, calling up his former playmaker at the Waratahs and picking him for the two biggest matches of the tournament despite not being used in other matches.
The decision backfired, but Foley remains a well-liked player and is a skilled, composed operator.
And just like what Rennie found by bringing Cooper into camp last year, he might also see a player who can add value to a squad light on experience.