Australia beat the world champions with kicking. Odd sentence?
Maybe, but the path forward for the Wallabies was made abundantly clear in their Gold Coast upset.
Take the three. Make the three. Box clever. Notch a 50-22. Don’t miss when it matters.
Because pressure works both ways. Handre Pollard is a sharpshooter, but he still misses one of four shots. So, in any given Test, he can leave 8 points wasting. And so he did.
Come the moment, come the Quade.
First, Cooper looked the fittest player on the park. Barely breathing, sweatless, ripped, and happy. How good?
Second, he seemed to have all the time on the ball, like the great playmakers do. Is QC a great?
Well, he was robbed of the chance to prove it, in his prime. He has faced the Boks 15 times. The only 10s who gave South Africa more trouble in this era were wearing all black, and couldn’t gain Aussie citizenship. Wait.
Cooper’s first and most important job tonight was to make his goals. After his first one shaved the upright, he was black dotting it.
At the last, there was never a doubt.
The Wallabies just had to stay together at scrum time, even backpedalling, to have a reset instead of a penalty.
They just did that. Allowing pesky Nic White to give his mate a chance.
I almost thought the Wallaby kicking coach was going to ice his own flyhalf, by bringing two tees on. All Bok fans were screaming for the pink one.
But it was Cooper time.
The insouciance of superior athletes: nothing fazes them. What a champion!
I think most of the rest of the rugby world scratches our heads at the dismissive treatment given Cooper, James O’ Connor, Scott Fardy, and the like, during the last half of the last decade.
I would find a Wallaby jersey for Cooper every time I could, unless his form dipped. Did it? Or were players like him seemed too difficult to coach?
It may seem less than generous to single out Cooper. But honestly, given that the Boks left 10 points on the pitch, and probably didn’t get the scrum rewards they earned, the only true difference — the 10 point difference — seems clear.
The affable, mature, modest Quade Cooper was the reason the Wallabies won.
On the Bok side: it was a poor kicking night. Not just off the tee. As I wrote before the test, if the Bok 9-10-15 don’t kick well, Boks will find a way to lose this.
The Bok front rows did their job, with the looseheads particularly dominant. The second row lacks RG Snyman, but shaded their battles. The breakdown was marginally Bok-won. Jasper Wiese still does not strike me as a clever 8, but at best for Australia, this was a push.
Both midfields dropped ball. The wings all worked hard.
But the firm of White, Cooper, and Banks outplayed every spine combination South Africa ran out there.
Pollard had his worst Bok game ever. Faf de Klerk gave typical full-bore work, but kicked too shallow or out on the full. And Willie le Roux had one of his grumpy, lumpy, stumpy games.
Damian Willemse snuffed out the Michael Hopper two-on-one, but he never looked like converting Malcolm Marx’s late try.
The good news for South Africa is kicking can and will improve.
But there will be calls to see Cobus Reinach at 9 and Aphelele Fassi at 15, because the Wallabies did give space, which Faf and Willie wasted.
It was a night of the boot. Australia won a footy test with the foot.
And Cooper was the man of the hour.
The only question I have is: had Cooper been fixed as Wallaby 10 this whole time, as Pollard has been for South Africa, what would Australia’s average world ranking have been?