Cooper vital for Reds
WHAT a weekend of rugby. One of the best for a long, long time.
Not many would have picked how things evolved over the weekend. I Know I didn't. And I just shows how much the Super Rugby tournament has grown in strength and quality.
Can you believe the Brumbies missed the finals? I know I didn't. Did you really think the Reds could make it? I know deep down, I didn't.
I know I did get one thing right and one thing wrong in Friday's column. The Brumbies experienced semi-final-itis (got that one right) and the Reds v Tahs game was an absorbing, extremely exciting fixture (got that one wrong).
It's a bit tough to call the Brumbies a loss to the Blues a choke, but it really appeared that way. They were hesitant and lacked the punch they have had all year. And the Blues played close to their ability-for the first time all season-and deserved their win.
But let's move on to the big movers of the weekend, the Reds.
And how good was the Reds v Tahs game. It was a belter. A seven try, ball in play for long periods, blood and blokes dead on their feet, belter. And a solid crowd on site, too, at just over 41,000.
And the good guys won, and won well. And for mine the primary message from the weekend was just how close this Super Rugby tournament is.
But getting to the finals and winning the finals are two different things. What gets you there will not necessarily get you doing 'the lap'. And having the personnel available, too, is vital.
And that's an issue for the Reds as they take on the Sharks at Suncorp next Saturday evening.
The Reds need Cooper. They are not the same team without him. Should he not receive any further sanctions, apart from his ten in the bin, the Reds are very, very good chance to go back-to-back. Without him, I'm not so confident.
Cooper's tacking has always been a worry. Whilst it has improved - his try-saving tackle just before halftime of a Tah attacking raid was pivotal, and evidence of his improvement - his technique and execution is still loose. But he does enough to be effective. And the Reds' defensive patterns are built around his deficiencies and take his defensive ability into account.
Finals are where big players shine and the more of them you have in your team, the better are your chances. It's as simple as that. So for me, the big point of the Reds v Sharks semi and the week will be whether Quade Cooper is available.
With him I'm very confident. Without him, not so much.
Having Digby Loane back is a massive boost. Whilst he didn't have a massive influence on Saturday's game - it was his first back for about a month - his running ability provides the Red with additional options.
And having a home semi is a big, big advantage. And then you add the 45,000 crowd to that, and things look good for the Reds.