While Australian rugby fans were screaming at their TVs, wishing for nothing more than it to be Saturday night with all the pubs open til dawn, and their South African counterparts were, as Andrew Mehrtens suggested choking ‘on their breakfast steaks’, Quade Cooper had this to stay about that insane climax.
“I mean, it’s footy, you know.”
As the world around him went nuts, and young teammates raced to him and leapt on his shoulders in the aftermath of his after-the-siren pressure kick to beat the world champion Springboks, Cooper proved that those Zen like words he’s been saying about life and change in the past few weeks are 100 percent heartfelt.
Family, health, friends. These are things that Cooper wants us to know mean more to him than winning games of rugby, no matter how dramatic the circumstances.
Maybe this remarkable photo sums it up more than words can: the ball gone, the game won, the fans and teammates celebrating and Cooper a picture of stillness and calm.
And Cooper made it clear in his beautiful exchange with one of those friends, former All Blacks player Sonny Bill Williams, who could hardly bear to watch his mate take the winning penalty attempt, from his position in the Stan Sport studios.
“I hate to put my brother in the studio on the spot there, but I’m so grateful for him,” Cooper said.
“When things went a bit pear shaped a few years ago, he was the first guy to reach out to me. I spent about two, three months just living with him every day.
“And just seeing what it takes to be a good, strong, man, every day. You see him with his family, see him with his teammates, the dedication, the hard work that he puts into his day to day life, not just when he turns up to fully train every single day but about being a better man, being better for himself for his family and everything else. I love you, brother. And I appreciate everything.”
With 80 minutes gone and the Wallabies down by a point, an Australian coach brought out two kicking tees – one for Cooper, who had already hit seven from seven – and one for Reece Hodge.
Wallabies captain Michael Hooper asked Cooper to make the call.
“The first thing was I looked up and I’d had a kick from a similar spot just before that,” Cooper said.
“I only just had the legs to get it over. And then it’s the 80th minute, looked at it and had a little chat to myself and said, ‘you know, is this your ego saying you want to take a kick? Or what’s in the benefit of the team?.
“I had a little chat to Hodgey as well. He backed me. So you know, your peers are backing you, you’ve got to back yourself as well.
“But we put a lot of effort and work into these sorts of things. And it’s not necessarily about the kicking itself, but just staying on the grind every day.
“The challenge now was like when you’ve had a high high, being able to just maintain and not get ahead of yourself, go back to your everyday, stay in it appreciate it for what it is.
“It’s a great, great team win, it’s one of the all time Test matches I’ve played in and just move on to the next. We’ve got another game next week. And you know how we go about our day tomorrow, which will be Monday, get in recover, and just enjoy some time with my family.”
But, said Stan host Nick McArdle (and of course we’re paraphrasing here because Nick is far too much of a gentleman to put it like this and I forgot to record it) ‘for f*** sakes, Quade you just came back from four years out, plenty thought you’d embarrass yourself and you’ve only gone and produced a rugby miracle, GET IN! HOW GREAT IS THAT??’…
But, still, Quade barely cracked a smile.
“For me, footy is just a small part of my life,” he said.
“And I sort of alluded to that throughout the week. Everybody seems more excited than I am. But this is just a small part of our life. It’s an important part. But it’s still a small part.
“This is a game of rugby. When we put that in perspective and understand that we’re going to walk off this field win, lose or draw, we might be a bit sore, but it’s not going to be the end of the world and we get to go home and around our loved ones.
“There’s so much more to life than just the result of a football game and when you can understand that that’s when you when you feel at peace with the game. And with everything else around us.”
Sonny Bill had earlier fought his emotions when he described the moment that Quade nailed the decisive kick, more than four years after laying his most recent Test. There have been many lows since then – and squabbles and enemies made. ‘Redemption stories’ are usually cliche, but this actually feels lke a proper one.
“Big stage, big time players step up and he sure did that,” said Williams, who reflected on his own career.
“Tonight has shown me how much love and support that my close ones gave me. They used to get excited when I’d achieve something great on the field.
“And I just got really emotional when he nailed that kick because I know the hardship that Quade’s had to overcome in the last few years, culminating in this kick.”
After Cooper professed his love, Williams responded: “I love you, too, brother. I’m so proud of you. You just stepped up and said it was mine. To me that the shows that’s a culmination of your journey of your last few years that you stepped up to the mark, and you’re ready to take it, you know, whether you got it or you didn’t.”
And then, on Monday, this postscript on Cooper’s Instagram stories.
“He’s an extraordinary human and I can’t thank him enough for setting an example of what it takes every day to succeed at life,” Cooper wrote.
“Without him, I’d have been happy to wander through life happy to just exist in my own little world with the same bad habits and behaviours.”