Quade Cooper has been rather low key since returning to Australia. No controversial tweets. No Instagram rants. Nothing for the media to get crazy about.
By all reports it’s just been training, and biding his time.
And now Michael Cheika has determined, by some method or other, that his time has come. Quade Cooper will start for the Wallabies at flyhalf, with Bernard Foley shoved one out to inside centre.
No combination there, but at least Quade will have played with halves partner Will Genia plenty of times before, and Samu Kerevi will be there to shunt it forward at outside centre.
To call him ‘polarising’ doesn’t do Quade Cooper justice. He’s unwittingly become the centrepiece in a battle that’s been raging since before most of us were born.
He is the posterboy for the Queensland faction, and the antithesis of everything Wallaby for the NSW faction. (Click to Tweet) He’s also well disliked across the ditch for certain unmentionable actions done to one Sir Richard Hugh McCaw.
Naughty boy. But no longer – All Blacks coach Steve Hansen’s forgiven Quade for that, and even gone as far as to suggest Cooper will improve the Wallabies this weekend.
You can imagine the conversations going on around Australia right now.
“Quade Cooper is a joke.”
“Quade Cooper’s exactly what the Wallabies need.”
“Quade Cooper is the worst player to ever play for Australia.”
There’s little doubt the Wallabies should improve on last week. Sitting alongside Roar writers and colleagues in some of the best seats in the house at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night, there were declarations that it was the worst they’d seen the Wallabies play, ever, and a particularly jarring statement from a non-regular rugby goer that it was “Just terrible.”
Of all the words written and spoken after the infamous Blackout at ANZ, ‘just terrible’ is probably the most accurate I’ve seen or heard.
Improvement isn’t just required, it’s bordering on impossible for it not to happen.
Whether that improvement will be led by Quade Cooper remains to be seen, but if Quade can execute three things better than the Wallabies side did during Bledisloe 1. I’m not talking about flashy, Quade Cooper things. I’m talking standard rugby things.
The first is kicking, with Nick Bishop putting together an excellent post on Australia’s exit strategy on Wednesday.
Quade is blessed with a booming right-foot kick – and would do well to share much of the kicking with Will Genia, allowing the heat to come off Bernard Foley in that area. The guy must be sick of reading about his feet by now.
The second is tackling, with every single Wallaby at fault in the last game. Foley. Haylett-Petty. Simmons. Everyone. The defence wasn’t good enough.
Quade Cooper will never be an excellent defender like Dan Carter, but he could do a lot to help the Wallabies’ performance this weekend by getting up with the line, and doing his best every time to hit his opponent with all his force.
Basically, do everything the Wallabies failed to do against the All Blacks first time.
Finally, and most boring of all, Quade would do himself a lot of favours by playing well within himself.
You all know the reaction of people whenever Quade does anything on the field. Frankly it’s absurd. He oscillates between genius and blundering fool more than any player in Australian history.
To see Quade pass, kick, tackle and lead with accuracy and consistency would go a long way to rebuilding his reputation.
Shovelling the ball one out to fellow playmaker Bernard Foley in good positions would be a start, as would taking the ball up straight and not shirking contact. Play for his team. Be as anonymous as Quade Cooper could ever be by using his excellent passing game to put his teammates in better positions than himself.
That’s what he’s best at. Now let’s see him do it.
I won’t be holding my breath, as this All Blacks team is primed to do plenty more damage to Australian rugby’s pride. To believe Quade Cooper will make a difference, positive or negative, is besides the point.
Whether the Wallabies can cobble together a team performance will determine the level of improvement.
And as a little reward for making it this far, it’s The Roar’s understanding that Cooper will be unveiled by the Queensland Reds imminently. Sure, it might be the worst-kept secret in the world, but there you are.