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Coach Quade? Always intriguing, Cooper reflects on what follows his last dance

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2nd September, 2021
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Around 3pm AEST on Friday, Australian rugby fans will know if Quade Cooper’s surprise recall to the Wallabies fold this season will culminate in a 71st Test cap or if his five-year wait stretches on, likely to be ended only through retirement.

Cooper will know some time before that – he might have already been told – if he has done enough to get some game time in Bledisloe 3.

As always with Cooper, nothing is straightforward. Dave Rennie has spoken glowingly and often about Cooper and his impact on the group, and especially its younger players, since the Kiwi coach talked the enigmatic playmaker into travelling with the team to New Zealand, while on a break from commitments in Japan.

It was a move that raised plenty of eyebrows. He’s hardly been the model pro throughout a career where he struggled to keep his thoughts, no matter how destructive, to himself.

We are a few weeks short of nine years since Cooper’s infamous “toxic environment” comments tweeted out and then reaffirmed on a Fox Sports rugby show, which caused great hurt to another Kiwi coach of the Wallabies, Robbie Deans.

(Photo by Getty Images)

“There’s a lot of people who are afraid to say what they feel so they just go along with it and nothing is going to change,” Cooper said at the time.

“That’s why I feel so strongly as a player. I don’t want to be involved in the toxic environment, and that’s how it is at the moment.”

The comments cost him a $40,000 fine from the ARU, now Rugby Australia, and he acknowledged: “I understand that I fell well below par in what it means to be a Wallaby.

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“I’m just looking forward to the future, hopefully having a big year, with not only my state but the Wallabies.”

That future held plenty more intrigue and turns – boxing career, playing club rugby on superstar wages, multiple failures to secure citizenship, and now this latest dalliance with the Wallabies as a mentor.

“He’s been fantastic in the group. Can’t speak highly enough of him,” Rennie said last week.

“Even when we had a few days off at the front of the week, he was driving a lot of the training and additional stuff a number of the boys were doing out on the field here or down at the gym.”

Even this week has seen a few plot twists in the Cooper drama.

He was put up for a Wallabies press conference on Tuesday. But does that mean he’s a shoo in to get a jersey on Sunday?

Fox Sports’ well-connected rugby writer Christy Doran wrote a story suggesting the decision to put Cooper up may have been a Rennie ploy – a red herring aimed at leading the All Blacks off the scent.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, by any scenario on Sunday. Wherever Cooper goes, drama will follow.

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And who would bet on that ending any time soon? Just maybe, if Rennie’s right about the impact he’s making, he has a future as a member of the Wallabies’ coaching staff.

“When I was playing club football at Souths in 2018, that was probably the first time I actually really enjoyed passing on knowledge,” Cooper reflected this week.

“Before that, I didn’t really have the patience for it, at this level. Super Rugby and Test level, I would kind of get frustrated if someone didn’t understand their role or missed the jump on a play or forgot a little bit of knowledge because I thought you should automatically know it, being at that level.

“I think that was an error in judgement on my behalf; instead of putting in time and effort to help other people.

“Everybody learns in different ways and when I went to Souths, obviously a club that doesn’t have much resources, doesn’t have much money, the coaching around the players that came in – talented players – but they were raw.

“For myself – being fortunate enough to have great coaching, great resources and everything from such a young age – I was able to find patience in myself and things that I had learnt. That was the first time I really enjoyed and got more satisfaction out of seeing other players learn.

“You’d be out on the field, and there would be something you’d had a conversation about, and you see a lightbulb moment when they realised and understood what was going on.

“Those moments – I got so much satisfaction out of it.”

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Former Wallabies back Dane Haylett-Petty spoke on Thursday on what Cooper can bring.

“He’s one player that’s never stopped learning. He’s getting better and better,” said Haylett-Petty.

“I know the players around him would be learning so much from him.”

Overall, though, Cooper was non-commital about a future in the coach’s box, but accepted it at least made more sense now than it might have nine years ago, when his “toxic” comments brought howls of protest from angry teammates, a situation he struggled to come back from.

“It’s not something that I would say, yeah, that’s definitely something I want to do,” Cooper said. “But I feel like now, where I’m at as a man and as a football player, I definitely have a lot more patience for that.

“There’s a lot of pressure on coaches. They have a very difficult role. With a lot of players who transition into coaching, they don’t realise the amount of work that goes into coaching, the hours of watching footage, the hours of planning.

“And then there’s selection. As players we don’t have any say in that.

“That would be something that I feel where there is a lot of pressure.”

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“You’re breaking a lot of people’s hearts by telling them that they’re not involved but you’re also giving them areas and things that they can work on to push for selection.”

If it is all just mind games, and Rennie decides against putting Cooper into service, you could forgive the man a twinge of disappointment, if not quite a broken heart.

His reaction would certainly give a insight into just how far he has travelled in those nine years.

“That hasn’t been a focus of mine at all, it’s not something that I have come in here thinking ‘I just have to play a Test,” said Cooper.

“Coming in here has been about learning. Whether I go back to Japan after this game, whether it’s after the Rugby Championship, I’m not 100% sure, just yet, I’ll have a wealth of knowledge in terms of football, in terms of things I’ve been able to gain and learn about myself and being back inside this environment.

“If I can grow as a man, grow as a rugby player, take that back to Japan and pass that knowledge on to other people, that’s a great reward for myself.”

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