Wallabies’ reborn playmaker Quade Cooper has hailed an “electrifying” crop of maverick international No.10s and called on media and fans to embrace them for the good of the sport.
Cooper, in a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Mail on Sunday, reflected on his comeback fairytale this season where he
took the reins in four straight Rugby Championship wins.
He spoke about his atacking rugby philosphy and how the best No.10s were in position to evolve the sport as a spectacle, as well as raising a potential rule change to improve the sport.
“If you look at No.10s around the world now, you’ve got Finn Russell, Marcus Smith, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga,” Cooper said.
“Electric, entertaining players who have a skillset other than just standing in the pocket and kicking the ball. It’s only over the last five or so years that those guys are getting respect and their faces are starting to fit.
“Maybe before you would be written off as a maverick who is unreliable. The more those guys are empowered and the more they continue to grow, the more kids will come through and want to play like them.
“The media and current players need to get behind these players and support them, rather than smash them and bury them if they have one bad game.
“Hopefully I will play against Marcus Smith one day but either way I’ll continue to love the work he does.”
Cooper was selected Friday for the Wallabies spring tour, putting a match up against Smith and England firmly on the calendar.
It has been an unexpected return to the fold for Cooper, after creative thinking coach Dave Rennie took him out for a coffee and welcomed him back into the camp.
Cooper acknowledged he hasn’t always fit in the Wallabies set up.
“Rugby’s a conservative game at heart,” he said. “When it’s played the right way, or at least the way I believe it should be played, then it’s the best game in the book. You see a team like the All Blacks and every team chases them.
“Teams that play that brand of footy are more appealing to me, but I still have so much respect for your South Africas, Wales and Englands of the world who play a game that not many other teams can play. They’re conservative but they’re very good at what they do.
“Professional sport is all about entertainment so what does that entertainment value look like? To me, I want to see running rugby.
“There are things that could be tweaked: you could move the defensive line back five metres because the ruck is such an uncertain place. Then again, the next guy might be happy with a three-all draw. You can never please everyone.”
Cooper admitted he was surprised to be back in the Wallabies fold.
“It’s funny how it all happened,” he said. “Playing for the Wallabies felt like a distant memory. I had been out of the team for years. It was far away. The longer I spent in Japan, the further and further it got away. Even nine weeks ago, it was still out of reach.
“I was basically on holiday here in Australia for my off-season. I was two and a half months into my summer break when I had some conversations with Dave Rennie. I came into the squad a week later and from there I was fortunate to play against South Africa. The rest was a little bit of history.
“To be able to sit here right now and look back on that journey, I can appreciate it. I learnt to develop my skillset even when there’s no guaranteed outcome. Finding the love to better yourself, so you’re ready for whatever opportunity might come your way. That applies to rugby or any other walk of life. To be able to start my Wallabies tally again at 70 caps and now be on 74, I feel very fortunate.”
He came back in the most dramatic way possible, lading the after-the-siren penalty to beat South Africa.
“Whether I kicked it or not, I wasn’t going to let it define me,” said Cooper.
“You can’t get tied up in things like that. Either way, I was still going to wake up on the Sunday and start again. There’s another game next week and you’re not going to win every time you step on the paddock.
“As a 20-year-old, how would I have celebrated that kick? Mate, I can’t even put that on record. I’d be out celebrating, overwhelmed by the emotion. That’s where I’d fall off the tree.
“You’d achieve something that means the world to you but when you’ve got that, what else is there? It’s hard to pick yourself back up.
“On the flip side, if you don’t get your desired outcome then you’re a failure. You hit rock bottom. I was outcome-based because I wanted to win so bad — and I put so much pressure on myself. I defined myself through rugby. That’s all I was and, without it, who was I?
“Win a game and I was the man. Lose a game and I’d hide away and not let anyone see me. When the holidays came around, you’d be lost because your whole identity has gone.
“You learn to understand that while rugby is a big part of your life and being a footballer requires a diligent lifestyle, it’s not your whole life. That’s what I remind myself every day: don’t let your emotions get so high or so low.”
From the wilderness to the main man again, many are asking if he can retain that No.10 jersey through to the 2023 World Cup.
“I don’t really set targets,” he said. “I have no illusions around the fact I’m 33 but I look after myself and have utmost respect for my body. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being back in the Wallabies.
“It’s just about building habits that will allow me to be in a great space if that opportunity arises. Everyone’s journey is a little bit different.”