KURTLEY BEALE knew the question was coming. He had held court in the middle of a Wallabies media conference for 15 minutes, chatting about challenges and Rosario and Nick Phipps, before the elephant in the room was broached.
So without further ado … no, he has not spoken to his best mate turned rogue Wallaby Quade Cooper, although it is likely he will do so later this week, given the side is preparing in Cooper's home town of Brisbane for Saturday night's final Bledisloe Cup match at Suncorp Stadium.
And yes, he hopes Cooper can somehow find a way to remain in the code, even if it would be slightly preferential if the Reds wizard was to return to the Wallabies squad in another position, since Beale is enjoying himself in the No.10 jersey.
The success in Argentina and the resignation of John O'Neill have given Australian rugby some alternative points of discussion, but the spectre of Cooper and his very public stoush with management continues to hurtle towards Camp Wallaby like Felix Baumgartner minus the parachute.
If anyone in the team would have an insight into whether Cooper is planning to pull the ripcord for a soft landing, it would be Beale, who along with James O'Connor makes up rugby's talented but controversial ''Three Amigos''.
That act could become a duo if Cooper cannot mend his deep rift with the Australian Rugby Union, a negotiation on which the outcome of his three-year deal at Ballymore depends. Rugby league is one option should he depart, as are stints playing union in France or Japan.
Beale said he hoped Cooper was not lost to the game after his series of interviews and tweets that labelled the Wallabies atmosphere as ''toxic'' and the game plans of Robbie Deans dull and restrictive.
''I haven't spoken to him,'' Beale said. ''I'll probably catch up with him later in the week. He's just concentrating on rehab. He had the operation on his knee, he's just focusing on getting that right and getting his body right for when he's available next.
''He's a class player. Once he's right and gets his body right and gets his knee right - whatever he wants to do, I respect what he wants to do. It's really up to him.
''You see when he took the Reds to the grand final that year, he was world class. If we can have him in the squad as well … it will definitely help us moving forward.''
Cooper has insisted other players within the Wallabies squad share his views, although none have made a peep in support.
Indeed, the tone of the language from Beale and Phipps pointed to anything but a team on the verge of serious fracture, with both Rebels players speaking of the lift in morale following the 25-19 win in Argentina.
''It's great having the quality of blokes in the team at the moment,'' Phipps said. ''As Kurtley said, the touring really did well for us in how tight the group became. We've got a couple of new blokes coming in as well who are really good value.''
Beale said the gutsy victory over the Pumas had forged new faith in the group and has them thinking anything is possible this weekend.
''There's a lot of belief in the team now,'' Beale said. ''Being on tour really got the boys together. The boys are feeling excited about the challenge of playing the No.1 team in the world … It's a great opportunity … it's a chance to go out there and show what we're really about.''
Beale said he was full of confidence at No.10 after being dropped a month ago for lack of fitness and knows a strong showing against the All Blacks could make the position his own.
''I'm enjoying myself at the 10 position at the moment and it's exciting playing with the guys around me,'' Beale said. ''I feel a lot better. I feel a lot fitter and stronger than I did earlier in the year.''