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From Bod’s hat-trick to Sexton’s drop-goal, no opponent has defined this Irish rugby century quite like France

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'I shouldn't have even been on the field': Quade Cooper on his four-year Wallabies hiatus

By Ben Smith
(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Before Quade Cooper’s miraculous 2021 return to international rugby against the Springboks, the mercurial flyhalf spent years in the wilderness after last representing Australia in 2017.

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His journey from international stardom to amateur club rugby in 2018 came after a fallout with the Reds, a process that Cooper revealed defined his transformation into the player he is now.

Speaking in an all-ranging interview with Denan Kemp’s Bloke in a Bar podcast, Cooper revealed he ‘shouldn’t have even been on the field’ when he last donned Wallaby colours in the June international window in 2017.

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He explained his drive to play at the time was for the ‘wrong reasons’ as he chased the highs that came with adulation and flashy play without putting the necessary foundation in for success.

“The last game I played [for the Wallabies] was 2017, I think it was against Italy at Suncorp,” Cooper explained to Bloke in a Bar.

“I don’t even say I played that series because I played in the last minute. I got put on right at the end because guys got injured.

“I look back at me as a man, as a person, sitting on that bench and how I was as an athlete. I shouldn’t have even been on the field.

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“I wasn’t up to that standard when I look at physically how I was, mentally how I was. That’s probably for a space of four years.

“I played the game for the wrong reasons, I wanted the fame, I wanted to plan those moments. I didn’t do any of the work that was needed. I had the talent, but didn’t do the work.

“I went away to Japan, that was another hit to the ego because my team was second division in Japan. At the time I said to Khoder, my manager, “I’m not playing there bro”.

His manager convinced him to look at the situation differently, where he would make more money than his current situation in Australia if he could look past his pride at playing a lower level of Japanese rugby.

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“I let go of my ego. I go there and I love learning, teaching these guys over there, because all they want to do is learn,” he said

Whilst paying for the Kintetsu Liners in division two a surprise approach from the Wallabies assistant coach expressed a desire to have Cooper involved with the national side.

Defence coach Matt Taylor reached out to Cooper after watching all his games in Japan and a meeting was set-up with head coach Dave Rennie.

“I guess he was trying to work me out, my character,” Cooper said of his conversation with Rennie.

“I’m four months into a holiday, this is my life and lifestyle [sticking to a training regime].

“Would I play or come into the Wallaby camp or whether I don’t, this is what I’m going to be doing.

“We had a conversation about what they were doing in camp and he was telling me how hard they were working. And I said, ‘you know what Rens, that’s great to hear, but what I’m hearing is that is four weeks of hard work. Four weeks is not enough.

“As soon as that finishes and they get six weeks holiday, that’ll stop. I’m four months into a holiday, this is my regime. If you are figuring out who I am as a person, this is how I live.

“I touched on that I don’t need to come in and play. We had a great conversation and then he invited me in.”

The 70-test flyhalf joined the Wallabies set-up in late July 2021 and began to train with the squad, however the then 33-year-old was not used immediately.

Against the All Blacks the team used Noah Lolesio in the Bledisloe series, which ended in three defeats for the Wallabies and put a dent in their Rugby Championship title hopes.

In September the Wallabies coaches handed Cooper a start for the first of two clashes against the Springboks, coming off a Lions series win and two wins over Argentina.

Despite questions from his teammates over whether he was nervous ahead of a return to the international area, Cooper explained he had no doubt about what he would provide the team.

“I just knew, when I look back to when I last played for Australia and look at where I am now, I’m totally different physically, I’m totally different mentally. I live a totally different life,” he explained.

“If I was kinda successful then, now I just know I’m going to be able to do my job at a very high level.

“When I came into that game [against South Africa], people were like ‘you haven’t played for five or six years, you nervous, how you feeling?’ and I said ‘I’ll tell you one thing, it’s a game’.

“It’s not that I don’t care if we win or lose, I just know what level I’m going to come at. I can guarantee this is the level that I’ll play at.

“Can I guarantee that we are going to win? No. What it means is, this is what I’m going to give.”

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A magical night for the Wallabies and Cooper unfolded with the flyhalf kicking a perfect seven from seven off the tee for 23 points in the Wallabies 28-26 shock win on the Gold Coast.

The win was capped by a fairytale finish with the No 10 slotting a last second penalty on the buzzer to take the lead, a moment which

“I remember this on the field, we get the penalty. If you watch the video, I look over to Hodgey.

“I took a kick maybe five, ten minutes before that and it was like 40 metres out, twenty metres in from the sideline. I hit this kick and I’m watching it fly and I’m thinking ‘oh it’s going to hit the crossbar, f*** it’s going to fall short’. It just went over.

“When we get the next kick, exact same spot but five or six metres back from that, I look at Hodgey, he thinks the score is different. He’s like ‘bro just tap it and kick it out’.

“And I was like ‘bro we are losing by one’ and he goes white, so I say ‘I’ll kick it’.

“For me that was a crucial moment in my own development and my own journey. As athletes that is like basket ballers taking a three pointer to win the game, or a free throw to win the game and the game is over.

“So it was like hey it’s a cool moment but I understand that you [Hodge] are better than me at taking long range kicks.

“Even when we had that conversation, if that was five or six years ago I would have wanted the tee, I would have wanted the accolades, wanted to be the hero because that probably would’ve masked over a lot of the shortcuts I’d taken.

“Just to be able to be honest with myself in that every day I’d done the work. So now we are in this moment, I’m happy, someone else take it. If you are better at this, you do it.

“When it was on me to kick it, I actually knew I’d done work and practice for years for moments like this. It doesn’t guarantee I’m going to get the kick, but I’m going to do my best and live with that”

“It wasn’t either [elation or reflection]. As soon as I started running into the ball, for some reason every step just felt perfect, I hit the ball and I just knew.

“There is a moment where I close my eyes and just look up, I knew that moment was bigger than me.”

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