When Quade Cooper stepped up for his shot at winning Sunday’s Test against South Africa I thought ‘he’s never missing this kick’.
We have a laugh about it all the time, and have done for years. I’ve always said to him, ‘bro, for whatever reason you always like to miss easy kicks but when we need you to make a big kick to put us one or two scores ahead, you always make it.’
They don’t come much bigger than that, so as soon as he lined it up I knew it was going straight down the middle.
He spends a lot of time on days off, hours after training practising. I’ve watched him meddle around with his approach to the kick, his run up, the type of tees he uses, the way he slants his ball.
I find it fascinating – like watching anyone working on a craft. You can tell there are intricacies involved that you don’t fully understand, but you can appreciate and enjoy the pursuit of perfection.
I don’t know if anybody else had that sense of anticipation, but to me that felt written – that there was going to be a moment where it was on all Quade to ice the game.
There was some discussion in the moment about who should have the shot, but I’m glad he took it because I’ve always known Quade to really enjoy and embrace those big moments.
I’m glad Australian fans got to see that moment, too, and understand how much Quade has grown.
His reaction represented his growth
At times the journey has been a tough one for him. Having had all that success as a young kid coming straight out of school into Super Rugby, thrust into the Wallabies, pretty much in his second or third year out of school, having experienced such highs.
People don’t understand, when you then go through the lows, whether it’s being dropped or not picked on a team, or getting cut completely from the Queensland Reds, what that does to you as a human being.
When you watch someone playing, you think that’s his job, he should be doing that. And when they don’t perform, it’s drop him or get rid of him or something’s going on.
But there are emotions attached to all of those things. And it can hurt you as a person.
Sometimes you lash out, sometimes, you can go off the rails.
Quade’s had his struggles, but he has chosen to become better from them.
The biggest thing that I’ve noticed in him is he so much more focused on the process and journey that he’s on, as opposed to the results and the consequences.
We’re the same age. You get to that point in your life as a footy player, where you appreciate the game for what it is, you don’t identify yourself as being Quade Cooper the Wallaby, for example.
You understand that you’re a man and a human being first and foremost, who’s fortunate to be in that position.
He summed it up perfectly when he said those moments are nice, but when the sun comes tomorrow what can I do to be a better person and a better player?
I spent a lot of time in Japan with him having conversations around things like that, trying to learn from him and trying to give him some of the things that I’m feeling. He is just in this zone where he understands, ‘I enjoy what I do, I love what I do, but it’s not who I am’.
His reaction after that kick won the Test was certainly a representation of that.
You could tell his impact by the players’ eyes
You could see from early on that what he brought to the table was exactly what the Wallabies had been missing – someone to implement their gameplan.
Quade has the skills to do that. He’s got the kicking game, the passing game, the vision and the knowledge. What doesn’t get spoken about enough is the experience he brings.
With that experience comes confidence. When he runs on to the field he understands it. He’s accumulated all this knowledge and experience and you couple that with the fact that his body is in really good nick, he has every confidence in his ability to go out there and execute.
He’s never rushed in his mind, which means he’s never rushed in his body.
He seems comfortable in that zone and it radiates out like the warmth from a fire. To see the main play caller is poised and calm in his communication makes a massive difference to how guys feel in and around the field.
That was really noticeable – the team had a guy out there whose voice had confidence and strength.
You could see it perfectly clearly in breaks in play; the level of communication and direction he was giving to guys around him.
You could see his teammates listening intently. A lot of times on the field when people speak, guys can wander with their minds and with their eyes.
They were tuned right in. Guys understand that he’s been there in those moments, and they went with him.
We get obsessed with shiny new things
Dave Rennie deserves credit from bringing Quade back into the fold this season. Should he have brought him back earlier, against the All Blacks ? Not for me.
This is just my opinion, but there’s a big level of gap between the All Blacks and South Africa in the way that they’re playing.
I’m not trying to be disrespectful to the Springboks, but the All Blacks are at a different level right now.
I’m not saying that Quade wouldn’t have performed well, but I think it would have been throwing him to the wolves to make him face them in his first game back in four years.
It was the right move to give Noah an opportunity to play those games and get some growth and learning from it. And it was the right move to introduce Quade against the Springboks, historically a team Quade has played really well against in years gone by.
I like how Dave is thinking. It was suggested to him before the game that selecting Quade was a moment of panic. I never thought that.
I knew that like, at some point, he was going to get an opportunity because we weren’t getting the results, and you need to make change. And from all reports that I was hearing, he was training really, really well.
In the course of a game, the talk has gone from panic to ‘can he play at the World Cup?’.
We get so obsessed with the future and the next new shiny things, that we disregard what’s right in front of us.
We worry about players being overseas. We worry about players being a little bit old. None of that matters.
If you’ve got a player that has the ability and a drive to want to be the best that they can, and they’re performing, who cares how old they are?
If he’s still the best in the country, what does it matter that he’s 33 or 34? It’s not like he’s 37. In my opinion, he’s got some of his best footy ahead of him.
As for the immediate future I see Quade and James O’Connor as somewhat interchangeable.
Their stories are very similar in terms of where they’ve come from – being in the wilderness to come back to be performing at a high level.
To me they’re the 1 and 1A in terms of the guys who are wearing the number 10 jersey. They play a very similar role – the leader within a team that’s a dominant, confident voice, very similar skill sets, and a mature head in and around the guys.
For now though, I think it’s Quade’s jersey to lose.
You hear Dave Rennie speak so often about how you have to earn the right to wear the jersey, whether it’s at training or performing in games. Based on that, you’d imagine that you’ll see Quade in that 10 jersey and him being given a bit of leeway in terms of his performances to keep it.
‘It’s in their DNA’
Beyond Quade, I was really impressed with us physically, particularly in general play where we really matched up with them in terms of our defence, with our ball carriers, and with our work at the breakdown.
From a set piece of view we struggled to gain parity, and at times we got dominated, but our game management was really good.
I know the Springboks were disappointed with their performance, but they won’t be changing their style – it’s in their DNA.
They didn’t execute very well. I didn’t think that they would be as rusty as they were, and if they can shake off that they will be a very hard team to beat.
They made uncharacteristic errors – a couple of kicks out in the full, some too shallow and you will rarely see Handre Pollard miss that many kicks a goal.
They’re a quality side. And they know if they execute better it can be a different story on Saturday.