The famed writer of the Peanuts cartoon series Charles Schulz is quoted as saying, “There is no greater burden than great potential.” In context to Australian Rugby Quade Cooper is the player who endures such.
Despite his exhilarating return to first class rugby and call up to the Wallabies training group, Melbourne Rebels flyhalf Quade Cooper remains the most renowned international player in the game yet to realise his full potential and time is running out for the 30-year-old.
With Rugby World Cups being played every four years, the completion of each tournament tends to be the staging point of refreshment for both coaching and playing stocks alike for many Unions and even the most ardent of Cooper’s supporters would have to concede that Cooper would have little chance of playing in the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France as a 34-year-old.
Now is his time. If there were ever to be a golden international era of Quade Cooper it must be now as time catches up with all, even the greats, of which Quade Cooper is not despite having the potential to be.
As it stands Quade Cooper’s international career remains disappointing to be frank. Seldom have I seen a player who can orchestrate an attack like him yet also fail to truly deliver on what god given talent he has.
When I think of the great flyhalves of Australian Rugby Quade Cooper simply is not in the conversation.
Cooper has not delivered success to Australia as the great Mark Ella did in 1984 scoring a try in every test in the now legendary Grand Slam Tour of Britain and Ireland.
Nor is he of the calibre of the late Phil Hawthorne who was instrumental on the 1963 Tour of South Africa where the unheralded Wallabies managed to draw the four-test series 2-2 against a great South African side.
And we should never forget the deeds of Paul McLean who guided Australia when they defeated the magnificent Welsh side of 1978 in a two-test series. Additionally, Cooper simply does not have the World Cups or Bledisloe Cups that Michael Lynagh and Stephen Larkham rightfully have a claim on.
The great disappointment has been that Quade Cooper has shown the rugby world he is capable of playing rugby that even the Ella’s, Lynagh’s and Larkham’s did not have in their repertoire. I never saw or heard of any of the Wallaby greats be able to pass and operate within the confines Cooper often finds himself in, jinking, weaving and passing from angles that appear to be a near mathematical impossibility yet he has mesmerized the rugby public with such displays.
Quade Cooper is the most gifted attacking player to wear the 10 guernsey for Australia yet also one of the greatest disappointments to date relative to his potential.
He has played alongside the likes of David Pocock, Will Genia, James Horwill, Dan Vickermann Stephen Moore, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau. Superb players all. There is no credible argument that Cooper has played in an era where he did not have a supporting cast to facilitate his gifted game.
Furthermore, Cooper has had the benefit of some of the better coaches in the game, in particular, Robbie Deans and Ewen McKenzie with the latter being a coach who appeared to truly grasp what Cooper could do on a rugby park and harness that potential to achieve results.
Few seem to recall that in 2013 under McKenzie and with Cooper at 10, the Wallabies came perilously close to winning a Grand Slam, something that only one other Australian side has ever achieved. Dubious officiating against the English at Twickenham had its part to play in the loss that prevented the Slam being attained but what was evident is that Quade Cooper was starting to deliver on his potential consistently.
2013 was Cooper’s greatest year in Wallaby gold thus far, in particular, his performance against the Irish at Lansdowne Road where he simply left the hosts guessing at his next move. The directness of his attack toward the line coupled with the variation of both long and short passing to support runners was the moment he truly arrived as an international flyhalf.
Whilst it would be one for the famed host of hypothesis forums Geoffrey Robertson, one of the most provocative hypothetical rugby questions in Australian rugby circles is, if Ewen McKenzie had not resigned as Wallabies coach, how successful could have Quade Cooper been as a Wallabies fly half? I suggest the trajectory he was on under the McKenzie eye was one that could have elevated him into much higher esteem than he currently enjoys.
Quade Cooper’s international rugby career is at a juncture where it is unclear if his best international rugby being behind him or does it remain slightly ahead? Whilst the clarity of that situation will become apparent later in 2019 as Cooper’s Super Rugby form is deserving of his recall to the Wallaby ranks. He is again the premiere flyhalf in Australian rugby and is playing the style of rugby not seen since 2013.
The issue I struggle with is that Quade Cooper has proven endlessly he knows how to win Super Rugby matches, but despite earning 70 Wallaby caps with a success rate of just over 60% he has never guided Australia to a significant series victory. With respect to the 2011 Tri-Nations, that was a truncated version of that tournament and despite a wonderful win against the All Blacks in Brisbane in 2011, it is not Grand Slam, Bledisloe or World Cup.
The obvious question is that if Quade Cooper becomes the Wallabies flyhalf of choice for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, are Michael Cheika and his cohorts brave enough to allow Cooper the latitude that he enjoyed under Ewen McKenzie and appears to have under Rebels Coach Dave Wessels?
Another reality is that if he is selected for the Wallabies but not given the latitude as he may not have had under Robbie Deans, is Quade Cooper now a mature enough player to play to the system the coach and team require?
In any event, the true challenge for Quade Cooper in 2019 is he must find a definitive way to deliver on his rugby ability as his rugby legacy presently is one of unfulfilled potential. If he does not, the best he may hope for, akin to Charlie Brown of Peanuts fame, is for people to politely say when asked about his international rugby career, “You’re a good man Quade Cooper.”
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