Quade Cooper was left stunned by his late call-up for Sunday’s (Monday AEDT) World Cup quarter-final, which adds intrigue to his long-term future in Australian rugby.
The enigmatic playmaker, who received a last-minute reprieve prior to Friday’s team naming when star fullback Israel Folau succumbed to the ankle injury he picked up against England a fortnight ago, is yet to commit to a deal beyond this year’s World Cup.
With Folau sidelined, Kurtley Beale has been promoted to the No.15 jersey and Cooper assumes his impact role on the bench.
It had been rumoured the 27-year-old had signed a rich deal with French giants Toulon, only to renege and reportedly pay out the exit fee for that contract so that he can stay with Australian rugby with a view towards becoming an Olympian by playing rugby sevens.
Sunday’s fixture will mark his 59th Test for Australia, leaving him one shy of the 60-Test cut-off for overseas-based players to become eligible under recently revised ARU rules.
Post-World Cup, Cooper’s focus is believed to surround throwing himself into the 10 World Series Sevens tournaments to be played between December and May, so he can represent Australia at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in August.
In the meantime, Cooper has spoken at length about playing every Test as if it is his last – which until Friday morning, it looked like may have been his blitzkrieg on Uruguay, in which he set up three tries in the 65-3 rout of their Pool A rivals.
He’d missed out on bench spots in the subsequent victories over England and Wales as the Wallabies topped the “Group of Death”, but never gave up hope of again pulling on the gold jersey this campaign.
“We spoke about it as a squad, preparing like you are going to play,” said Cooper, who admits this is the latest call-up he’d ever received.
“Even watching from the sidelines, I have been going through the game calling, even when I have been sitting in the stands, as if I was out there.
“Just to make sure I was ready if anything happened.
“In some ways you are still putting yourself in the position of playing, just to keep yourself ticking over.
“But at the same time you don’t want to put any negative energy out there and thinking someone will go down (injured).”
Cooper has been picked as cover for five-eighth and fullback and hopes to have a similar impact to that of Beale – who has starred throughout the tournament and truly embraced the role as the team’s X-factor off the bench.
Beale’s versatility, having covered the wings already this tournament, should give further flexibility once Cooper takes the field – rather than simply covering for an injury to starting No.10 Bernard Foley, who has been one of the players of the tournament and is now one of the code’s more reliable kickers.
“If I get the opportunity I will step in there and bring what I have to the game,” Cooper said.
There’s no doubt that coming into the last week of October without a broadcast rights deal in place for 2021 is less than ideal for Rugby Australia. But developments over the last week or so suggest that whatever deal is done from here is going to be a whole lot better than expected.