Over the past three or four decades, rugby union has been blessed with some wonderful talents at number 15: Matt Burke, Marty Roebuck, Gavin…
In Argentina we have a popular saying that the devil knows more for being old than for being a devil.
This is one possible way to explain why players like Morné Stein and Quade Cooper, for various factors, have led their teams to decisive victories at decisive moments as well.
I confess that when I wrote some of my comments about unpredictable players (Richie Mo’unga, Damian McKenzie or Finn Russell) I had the impression that Cooper was no longer part of that group to which he knew how to belong.
But in his game against South Africa, he was able to show that the mix devised by Dave Rennie lacked a bit of talent and a bit of immaturity – not enough to win games decisively.
In the Rugby Championship, Australia turned out to be a team in constant search of its equilibrium point during the 80 minutes of the matches.
But that search was based on a young creative axis (Tate McDermott and Noah Lolesio) that had not yet matured. So the team didn’t magically find what it needed.
Initially, the incorporation of Quade Cooper (ten) pursued the objective of improving cohesion levels and contributing to stronger and less hesitant decision-making among Australian drivers.
The exclusion of James O’Connor due to injury made things even worse. Maybe that’s why Cooper is thrown unexpectedly onto the field of play.
Under his orbit, he spent 15 per cent of the Australian game and executed only five kicks. His role as a game distributor, quite active and clinical at the same time, included the consolidation of the attack line, feeding Samu Kerevi’s attacks with quality balls (17).
On Andrew Kellaway’s try, starting in the middle of the field of play, Cooper makes a deep pass behind the back of a second attack pod to Samu Kerevi, who breaks the advance defence in rush mode and then connects to Kellaway, who came in support on the right side of the field and between the five-metre lines.
In similar situations Lolesio raised doubts for proper decision making, delivering poor quality balls and granting some chances to New Zealand.
Cooper was able to make a difference by getting ahead of the rush defence, then turning the game deep into the back position of Samu Kerevi.
South Africa presented in its game against Australian a style of game more structured and readable than New Zealand, who makes improvisation and the change of rhythms a true art of war.
It is clear that South Africa’s way of playing is more suited to the Wallabies at this stage of consolidation. Eighty-four per cent of the game with the foot that South Africa deployed (box and up and under) was launched by Faf de Klerk (nine), Handre Pollard (ten) and Willie le Roux (15).
With this strategy of kicking and pressing efficiently, they managed to get close to the scoreboard and put Australia in doubt until the very moment of the coolly executed penalty by Cooper.
Would he raise the same type of game in Round 4 or would he enhance other facets, as he did with Argentina?
South Africa should look for the game by quickly taking advantage of the beneficial situations against Australia, trying to vary the game plan based on greater ball possession and a better volume of own play. So far South Africa maintains an average of 46 per cent of possession and 48 per cent of territory.
Beyond Quade Cooper’s excellent game against South Africa, we know that Australia’s game is far from the wishes of fans as much as Dave Rennie himself.