Shade of Quade hard to shake
Friends and Wallabies teammates Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper. Photo: Getty Images
Kurtley Beale knew the question was brewing. He had held court in the middle of a Wallaby media conference for 15 minutes, chatting about challenges and Rosario and Nick Phipps, before the elephant in the ARU room was broached.
So without further ado... no, he hasn't spoken to his best-mate-turned-rogue-Wallaby Quade Cooper, although it's likely he will do so later this week, given the side is preparing in Cooper's home town of Brisbane for Saturday night's Bledisloe 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 currently enjoying himself in Cooper's former number 10 jumper.
The success in Argentina and the resignation of chief executive John O'Neill has given the Australian rugby stratosphere some alternate 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 current 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 has made up rugby's talented but controversial Three Amigos.
That act could become a duo if Cooper can't mend his deep rift with the ARU, a negotiation on which the outcome of his three-year deal at Ballymore depends. Rugby league is one option should he depart, as are rugby stints in France or Japan.
Beale said he hoped Cooper was not lost to the game after his series of interviews and tweets which labelled the Wallaby atmosphere as "toxic" and the gameplans of Robbie Deans dull and restrictive.
"I haven't spoken to him. 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," Beale said.
"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 – he's very smart and knows how to play the game well – it will definitely help us moving forward."
Cooper has insisted other players within the Wallaby squad share his views, although none have made a single peep in supporting his stance. 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 post the 25-19 win over Argentina.
"It's great having the quality of blokes in the team at the moment. 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," Phipps said.
"The quality of the chat we have at the moment and the quality of the coaching, just looking into New Zealand and how we can target them, it's a good opportunity."
Beale said the gutsy victory over the Pumas had forged new faith in the group and has them believing anything is possible at Suncorp Stadium this weekend.
"I think the win against Argentina, that was great to be a part of. There's a lot of belief in the team now. Being on tour really got the boys together," Beale said.
"I think leading into this week the boys are feeling excited about the challenge of playing the number one team in the world.
"I'm just like everyone else in the team. It's a great opportunity. As a team, it's a chance to go out there and show what we're really about."
Beale said he felt strong and full of confidence in the number 10 after being dropped from the squad a month ago for lack of fitness.
Since then, after playing in the 31-8 loss to the Springboks and the 25-19 win over the Pumas, Beale said he was beginning to find his feet and knew a strong showing against the All Blacks could make the position his own, putting Cooper further out of the frame in the process.
"I'm feeling pretty confident," Beale said. "I'm enjoying myself at the 10 position at the moment and it's exciting playing with the guys around me.
"I feel a lot better. I feel a lot fitter and stronger than I did earlier in the year."