Love him or loathe him, Quade Cooper is a talent that rugby could ill afford to lose. At only 24 years of age and with 38 caps to his name Cooper has made a big impact on Super 15 and test rugby. It was good news that Cooper has decided not to follow his mate Sonny Bill to rugby league, if mildly disturbing to learn of his plan to follow Williams into the boxing ring.
Cooper makes it easy for the cynics to pore scorn upon him. From allegations of burglary on the Gold Coast (later withdrawn), to tantrums with the ARU over his contract, the cheap shots on Richie McCaw, his weak defence and the twitter attacks on Robbie Deans.
But sport needs its flawed geniuses. It’s easy to say that Cooper is more flaw than genius, particularly after all the abuse he received during the World Cup. But what a pity it would be to forget all the wonder that he has brought to the game of rugby.
No one in the modern game counter attacks from his own 22 with quite the bravado and the talent of Cooper. Few modern tens are prepared to take the ball quite so thrillingly flat to the line, combining the threat of their acceleration with a stunning range of pass.
Don’t forget why Cooper became public enemy number one during the World Cup. He was the fly-half when the Wallabies put 46 points on the French, in Paris and in just one half of rugby. He also guided Australia to two victories over New Zealand in Hong Kong and Brisbane.
In 2011 Quade Cooper was the fly-half of the Super 15 and Tri-Nations champions. He is a man with a 68% winning record for the Wallabies, not far behind Larkham and Lynagh. It is worth reminding ourselves, the man can play.
Considering that he has played behind an Australian scrum which has at times resembled a pack of marshmallows, one wonders how good Cooper could be if he received the ball on the front foot with more time and space.
A conundrum which often faces coaches (particularly at international level) is whether the character of a player is more important in the selection process than talent. One could take either side of the debate and present a strong case.
The coaches of the successful All Black side of 2011 selected the most talented players and challenged themselves to create the culture and environment which would allow the players to perform to their full potential. Australia has tended to alienate its more difficult characters like Cooper and Giteau.
The style of rugby advocated by Robbie Deans has not suited Cooper, whose ill-advised comments about the “toxic environment” within the Wallaby camp have placed him firmly at loggerheads with Deans. One of the biggest rugby events of 2013 will be the Lions tour to Australia. That Deans’ contract as Wallaby coach expires at the end of 2013, adding intrigue to the series, particularly as Reds coach Ewan McKenzie is waiting in the wings for a call up, if Australia lose the test series to the Lions.
Warren Gatland recently described Cooper as a “Campese-esque” player who puts bums on seats. With Cooper and Genia having re-signed, the Reds will continue to receive massive support from the Queensland public. While it’s too soon to add Cooper to the list of great Wallaby 10’s such as Lynagh and Larkham, perhaps McKenzie is the coach who can build the environment and culture at international level which will allow Cooper to realise his full potential.