The real Quade Cooper impresses Wallabies coach Dave Rennie
30 July, 2021, 2:15 pm
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie stressed the importance of good character when he sat down with Quade Cooper for a coffee last week and got his first good look, up close, of the enigmatic playmaker.
After a decade of watching Cooper from afar, and occasionally coaching against him, Rennie’s knowledge of the Wallaby most New Zealanders love to hate had been gleaned “mostly through the media”.
“It’s very similar to James O’Connor, in fact,” Rennie said.
But as Rennie came to realise with O’Connor, reality and perception don’t always marry up.
And after deciding he would call in Cooper to the Wallabies squad to help with training numbers, and potentially cover an injury crisis, Rennie watched the 33-year-old train with the squad in Queensland, and then talk with the media. He liked what he saw.
“You have only got to listen to what he has been saying,” Rennie said. “Obviously he has learned a lot with those experiences and matured.
“My knowledge of Quade and my knowledge of James was mostly through the media. I coached against both of those boys and respected them as players. It has been good to get to know them.”
With Cooper on leave in Brisbane from his Japanese club Kintetsu Liners, text messages about the potential to help with training numbers led to a catch up. Whether Cooper’s chequered history with Australian coaches – or having slammed the Wallabies culture as “toxic” in 2012 – was in Rennie’s mind or not, the Wallabies coach spelt out he wanted from Cooper.
“Certainly in the conversation we had, I talked a lot about the importance of character around this group,” Rennie said.
“We have a young group of men who are impressionable and really need Quade to come in and be a real positive influence. As you can tell from how he has spoken, he is highly motivated. We saw him running around, and he looked as sharp as ever, to me.”
Given O’Connor has been ruled out for the Bledisloe Cup, and New Zealand will close the boomgate on Australian players after they travel over on Friday, Cooper will stay with the Wallabies for the next month.
His primary role will be on the training paddock but if catastrophe somehow strikes Noah Lolesio, Matt To’omua and Reece Hodge in a short space of time, the thinking is 70-test Cooper won’t be daunted by the Test arena.
Cooper hasn’t played a Test since 2017 but he is still fit and in form, having played in Japan since leaving Australia in 2019.
“I didn’t ever expect to be in the position so I am very grateful for the opportunity and to be back in this environment,” Cooper said.
“It is one of those things, you try and keep working away and try and grow each day and then an opportunity like this presented itself. It is just a matter of making sure you are available and you’re ready.”
“His composure at the end of those Test matches, to be able to nail those kicks at goal [to win the Wallabies-France series], already shows a steady resolve in the kid,” Cooper said.
“Just to be able to spend the day out here with him today, he is a guy who is eager to learn and has a strong head on him.”