The excellence to Quade Cooper’s comeback Test was in how understated he was because so often in his career he has seemed bored with doing the routine.
Less is more sometimes. Cooper was the perfect example on Sunday night.
Where does rugby keeping finding these scripts? From the scrapheap to hero. Cooper looked as calm as you like firing the giantkilling shot to topple the World Cup champions from South Africa at Cbus Super Stadium.
The best thing was he radiated that calm to all the Wallabies around him when playing in the gold jersey for the first time in four years on the Gold Coast.
It was the comeback of a smart player and one who has earned the right to continue in the gold No.10 jersey at Suncorp Stadium next Saturday night against the same opponents.
Cooper was all cool control and clean execution. It was astonishing really considering he was playing second division rugby in Japan with Kintetsu Liners earlier this year.
The step up in pace and intensity is huge. Don’t anyone fool you by saying a few weeks training with the Wallabies got him up to speed.
This was the power of Cooper’s mind as much as his body lasting the full 80 minutes to win the 28-26 decision.
Three or four times, he went into contact and made certain he got to ground and laid the ball back to make sure possession was retained. There was no fending off of the defence, dancing and arm dangling trying to get a 50-50 offload away.
If you wanted to see a backhanded flick pass you had to be at the ground early to see Beauden Barrett throw a beauty for a try.
Cooper quickly assessed the speed of the South African rush defence which was the subtle skill of Australia’s first try.
He has always been good at positioning himself flat, a little deeper or closer to his halfback depending on the situation.
He was definitely standing a little deeper to receive the ball he then snapped expertly to centre Samu Kerevi. The big centre’s inside angle on the run made the try and winger Andrew Kellaway again impressed with a strong finish.
Cooper definitely added some calmness to the whole show for the Wallabies. He banged several shrewd kicks downfield. One, angled kick to the right sideline was cleaned up by Handre Pollard. A great chase can turn it into a great kick and fresh replacement Jordan Petaia tackled Pollard, who passed the ball into touch.
Cooper has always hovered around 70 per cent as a goalkicker, always a little less than the elite levels of Dan Carter and Johnny Sexton.
On Sunday night, he banged over eight-from-eight, the last difficult angled effort that would have been 45m on the angle. All were struck perfectly.
You are never too old to learn. Gone was the old matador swing of the arm across his body.
This has been a long, long road back for Cooper. The three coaches who dumped him all had valid reasons so don’t everyone suddenly bag them.
Cooper, at 33, can now take aim at the 2023 World Cup as a realistic target.
Coach Dave Rennie selected well around him too with weapons Tate McDermott or Nick White inside him and Kerevi outside him.
Credit Rennie too for not throwing Cooper to the lions against the All Blacks. This was the right comeback arena for him to kick on to something more.
Cooper worked neatly with Kerevi and having playmaking halfbacks inside him is perfect for him.
Last year’s cancelled Japanese season meant Cooper had eight months off. He reconnected with friends and family while also diving into his longest-ever period of body preparation.
“What I had been putting out on the field was less than I could max out at. You only make surface-level gains in a regular pre-season so I got to train at a level above to make some real improvements,” Cooper said.
Cooper always looks good at training and his understanding of the game always stands out. He hasn’t always translated that to the field.
On Sunday night, he delivered brilliantly against Springboks who don’t play much football but absolutely command the parts of the game they do play.