Ranking the 5 Bad Boys of Australian Rugby
New Australia coach Ewen McKenzie has been tasked with quickly rebuilding Wallaby confidence following their recent 41-16 drubbing at the hands of the British and Irish Lions.
Forthcoming back-to-back games with New Zealand in the Rugby Championship is hardly ideal for this mending process, and crucial to McKenzie’s chances will be his ability to get the Wallabies’ "bad boys" onside.
No team is squeaky clean, and most can accommodate one, perhaps two, individuals whose behavior tests the coach’s patience and the team’s collective spirit.
But in Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor and Digby Ioane, Australia have enough bad boys to last a generation, let alone one team.
The "errant" boot of captain James Horwill during the second Lions Test earns him a spot in this hall of shame.
Arguably the most talented of the "bad boys," Cooper missed the Lions Test series after falling out with former coach Robbie Deans.
On his day, Cooper is the most electric player in world rugby, capable of changing a game with one of the many tricks honed during a successful career with Queensland Reds.
It is this maverick quality that resulted in the breakdown of their relationship and his now infamous Tweet describing the atmosphere in the Wallabies camp as “toxic”. Ouch! No wonder he was given the boot.
But Australia’s loss was clearly the Lions’ gain, and many think the series may well have gone the other way had Cooper been present.
Thankfully for Australia, McKenzie knows Cooper well from his days coaching the Reds and has already recalled him to the Wallabies squad.
Like Cooper, Beale is blessed with an abundance of talent. But he can also be a loose cannon whose inability to avoid mishaps has seriously tested Australian rugby authorities.
A series of well-publicised incidents—including punching Gareth Delve, his Melbourne Rebels captain, after a defeat in South Africa—resulted in the Wallabies dropping Beale while he received counseling for alcohol-related issues.
Even when he was recalled, he was unable to avoid controversy and was pictured in a burger bar at 3:50am just days before the second Lions Test.
You’d think after his last-minute slip had cost the Wallabies victory the Saturday before he would want to keep his head down. But no, not Beale, whose penchant for trouble recently cost him his contract with the Rebels.
McKenzie will hope Beale uses his surgery-enforced layoff for the rest of this season to reassess his career.
Wallabies fans can be excused for thinking O’Connor cares more for his hairstyles than playing for his country.
O’Connor burst on to the international scene as a prodigiously talented teenager, and no one questions his ability to play at the very highest level.
Perhaps it is the influence of certain teammates, perhaps it is Deans’ insistence on playing him out of position at fly-half, but either way O’Connor has fast lost the credit he earned from a series of stellar performances early in his career.
Despite scoring in the second Test victory over the Lions, O’Connor’s lack of fly-half experience was a significant factor in the Wallabies’ series defeat.
O’Connor was with partner-in-crime Beale on the infamous late-night fast-food excursion, together they missed the bus to training one morning, and they were also seen in a nightclub at 5 a.m. after the third Test disaster.
It is this indiscipline that resulted in him also being axed by the Rebels.
McKenzie looks set to move O’Connor to his preferred full-back role for the New Zealand games, which may at least give the 23-year-old the stability he needs to win back admirers.
Australia’s troubled preparations for the second Lions Test were further undermined when a warrant was issued for the arrest of star wing Ioane.
Ioane had missed a date with a magistrate following a scuffle in a Melbourne hotel in March. A few days later he tweeted a gangster-style photo of himself posing in a spa with a group of players including, you guessed it, Beale, Cooper and O’Connor.
Reds winger Ioane is a devastating runner, and his absence through injury was a major blow for Wallabies’ chances in the second and third Lions Tests.
But, as with several teammates, it could be just a matter of time before the Australian public and rugby authorities lose patience with his transgressions.
Okay, so the golden boy of Australian rugby doesn’t really deserve to be in this feature, but plenty of Lions fans felt differently after viewing the incident that led to his citing after the first Test.
Horwill cuts an impressive figure both on and off the pitch, but his discipline came under scrutiny after his boot was caught making contact with the prone head of his opposite number, Alun-Wyn Jones.
In another example of contentious decisions going against the Lions, Horwill was initially cleared, only for the IRB to surprise everyone by launching an appeal.
The Queensland lock was free to play in the second Test and the pressure of it all was clear when his emotions spilled over at the final whistle.
An independent tribunal eventually turned down the appeal but it made little difference as Horwill and Co. were put to the sword by the Lions.
But he then showed his real character with a speech praising the Lions' ethos and congratulating their triumph.