Australia flyhalf Quade Cooper, having recovered from a serious knee injury, will make his first start in seven months when the Queensland Reds take on the Lions of South Africa in a Super Rugby clash in Brisbane on Saturday.
Cooper, capped 35 times for Australia, has not played since he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament during the Wallabies' victory in the third-place playoff at the rugby World Cup in October.
“It has been a long six-plus months on the sideline and I know I have done everything I can to tick all the boxes during my rehab,” the 24-year-old flyhalf said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Everything which could be done has been done and the rest is now out of my hands. I'll be going out on Saturday knowing I've done everything within my power to be prepared both physically and mentally and it's now about going out and doing the best that I can for the team.”
The champion Reds have struggled in the absence of their defence-splitting flyhalf, whose partnership with scrumhalf Will Genia provided the fulcrum of the Queensland side's first Super Rugby title last year.
The Reds are second in the Australian conference after beating the high-flying Waikato Chiefs on Sunday but probably still need to win their five remaining matches to reach the playoffs.
Reds coach Ewan McKenzie believes the return of Cooper can spur the team to achieve that.
“There's no denying Quade has enormous X-factor but for him this match is about getting back out of the field and getting comfortable again within the matchday environment,” McKenzie said.
“It has been a long layoff for him and the next few weeks before our bye will be invaluable as he again finds his feet. Everyone is excited to see him back out there but it's important we manage him the right way during this period.”
Cooper's enigmatic running game helped the Wallabies to their first Tri-Nations title in a decade last year and the Australian selectors will be hopeful he can return to that form ahead of the newly expanded Four Nations, now including Argentina, in August.
Prior to that, the Wallabies host Scotland in June before the three-test series at home to Wales later in the month.
However, Cooper is not necessarily a certainty at standoff for Australia, with Wallabies fullback Kurtley Beale shining in recent weeks at flyhalf for the Melbourne Rebels after his team mate James O'Connor showed good form in the pivotal role before injury.
Cooper said it was too early to be looking ahead to international chances and that he was concentrating on the struggling Lions, who are bottom of the standings with only one win this year.
“My focus is solely getting out there this weekend and playing good footy,” Cooper said.
“If those things (Australia) arise, we'll think about them when they come. I know on the weekend the Lions will be coming for me and they will be coming for the team.” – Reuters