'Up to Cooper if he quits Wallabies'
John O'Neill is "utterly confused" at the criticism levelled by Quade Cooper at the ARU.
SYDNEY - Australian Rugby Union chief John O'Neill is "utterly confused" at much of the criticism levelled by Quade Cooper at his organisation and says it is up to the flyhalf if he plays for the Wallabies again.
Cooper, currently sidelined by injury, said in a television interview on Thursday he would not play for Australia unless changes were made to the "toxic" environment surrounding the team, which he felt was "destroying" him.
"Most disturbingly, he was firm about not playing for the Wallabies unless things change," O'Neill said in a statement released on Friday.
"If that is how he feels, then that is his choice. The reality is a decision on whether or not he stays in Australian rugby has to this point rested with him since he received an ARU offer in early July."
The 24-year-old's contract with the ARU expires at the end of the year and he has not signed a new deal despite agreeing to stay an extra three years in Super Rugby with the Queensland Reds.
In the television interview, Cooper slammed the defensive tactics of coach Robbie Deans, who was installed by O'Neill, and said his dissatisfaction with the environment at the Wallabies had come to a head after the win over Argentina two weeks ago.
"Much of what was said ... has left us utterly confused," O'Neill added.
"Quade wants more of a say in the game plan, he wants to play his style of game. He certainly made that clear. Yet he also said he could adapt if required.
"He talks of an unhappy environment without elaborating. He uses the word 'toxic' -- an extremely strong descriptor."
OUT OF THE BLUE
Another of Cooper's complaints was that the Wallabies did not have a dedicated training facility, a criticism dismissed out of hand by O'Neill.
"We've never had these concerns raised previously," he said. "The fact is the Wallabies are a national team. They train, stay and play in cities all around the country and overseas.
"The Australian cricket team and the Socceroos, same thing. Suggesting the Wallabies are under resourced has equally come out of the blue."
Cooper also reiterated that he wanted to play alongside Sonny Bill Williams, the All Black who has been linked with rugby league's Sydney Roosters, further fuelling rumours that he might be preparing to quit rugby union.
At his best a mercurial talent whose unpredictability can unlock the game's increasingly tight defences, Cooper helped Australia to a first Tri-nations title in a decade last year.
The New Zealand-born playmaker had less success at last year's World Cup in New Zealand, where he was vilified as the host country's "public enemy number one" and ended the tournament with a serious knee injury.
A further problem with the joint ruled him out of Saturday's match against South Africa in Pretoria and the last Wallabies game of the Rugby Championship against the Pumas in Argentina.