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MATCH REPORT: 'He's a big game player. He said I've got it and he nailed it'

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12th September, 2021
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Of course he did! Ever since Quade Cooper’s name was read out in the Wallabies team list for the first time in four years on Friday, the rugby Gods must have been plotting the craziness of Sunday night.

Having led until the final eight minutes, the Wallabies went a point behind world chanmpions South Africa, blew an almost certain try and needed a miracle penalty with 30 seconds to go to win the match.

There was an agonised debate as Cooper and Reece Hodge discussed who might take the final shot, but Cooper had already nailed seven from seven and he backed himself, as he always has.

His perfect eighth will go down in Wallabies folklore.

“That was right on the brink of his distance,” said Wallabies captain Michael Hooper. “He’s a big game player and said ‘I’ve got it’ and nailed it.”

Cooper said: “The first thing was I had had a kick from a similar spot earlier. I only just had the legs to get it over. I had a chat to myself and said ‘is this your ego saying you want to take it?’ I looked at Hodgey and he backed me.”

There’s no doubt Australia looked more combative than at any time during their Bledisloe Cup collapse and the win was no less than they deserved with Cooper’s calm authority at the heart of it.

He came in for this match having been with the squad, but not in a matchday 23, for the three Bledisloe games and replaced youngster Noah Lolesio.

Quade Cooper wins the game for the Wallabies

(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

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One of Cooper’s first touches with ball in hand saw him throw a loose pass to ground but he quickly regained composure, and his performance, like his pre-patter was much more Zen than rock and roll.

“He’s calmed the guys down,” said David Campese on Stan Sports. “When he gets the ball everyone’s waiting for something – Samu Kerevi is a really good fit for him as is Tate McDermott as well.”

“What I like is he hasn’t thrown any long cut out passes when it hasn’t been on out wide,” said Tim Horan. “He turns the ball back inside and find some forward runners.”

Coach Dave Rennie made it clear he expected a different kind of game than the Wallabies faced against the free-running All Blacks, and Boks coach Jacques Nienaber delivered on expectations, his team kicking the ball away at every opportunity.

Early on Australia was being out fought in aerial duels and Faf de Klerk’s box kicks had Tom Banks scrambling at fullback.

But the Wallabies caught a break when Boks captain Siya Kolisi spent 10 in the bin, lifting Banks dangerously in a tackle.

During the Bledisloe Australia twice had one man advantages against the All Blacks and conceded crucial points both times. As well as the obvious issue, the pyschological impact was huge.

On this occasion, the Wallabies got it right. Cooper stood deeper than usual in the back like and fed Kerevi. He smashed through de Klerk’s feeble attempt at tackle and found Andrew Kellaway, who continued his fine start to his Wallabies career with a fourth try of the campaign on 17 minutes.

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The Boks struck back just after Kolisi’s remergence, as Matt Philip became the next player into the sin bin, Bongi Mbonambi crossing the Wallabies line.

But the Wallabies hung tough and produced arguably their biggest moment of 2021 just before the break. The forward pack went into a huddle just before a scrum and then Angus Bell’s power forced a penalty which Cooper converted for a 5-point halftime lead.

Cooper made it a margin of eight soon after the break, but then familiar issues struck Australia.

Banks, backed to the hilt by Rennie despite criticism of his work under the high ball against New Zealand, spilled a kick near his line. Soon after, with Australia under pressure Folau Fainga’a was sinbinned for a low, no-arms tackle on Ox Nche.

Malcolm Marx took full toll scoring a try from the resulting driving maul at the lineout.

Cooper drilled the toughest penalty of the night for a four point gap but the world champions kept coming, with Marx rolling over for his second try with eight minutes to play. Springboks No.10 Handre Pollard was off the field and his replacement Damian Willemse shanked his shot, leaving the Wallabies down by a point heading into the final five minutes.

But Willemse redeemed himself with a massive tackle at the finish, smashing the ball loose from Reece Hodge as he charged into the 22.

It looked like the game was gone, but the Boks let it slip, handing Quade his beautiful moment of redemption.

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“Australia played well and deserved to win, but I don’t think we played well today,” said Nienaber. “We scored three tries to one but gave away 23 points from the tee, and lost in the 82nd minute.”

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