CAPE TOWN – Former Wallabies and Reds fullback Greg Martin described Quade Cooper’s debut Super Rugby performance with the Rebels as “the most commanding flyhalf performance from an Australian in three years.”
The 70-Test Wallaby’s Super Rugby return was always going to be the main event in the Rebels’ opener against the Brumbies last week. And it turned out to be a brilliant one as Cooper guided the Rebels to a 34-27 win at Canberra Stadium.
If you look at the Rebels’ pivot struggles over the years, the 30-year-old’s efforts in round one should be welcomed even more.
But Cooper’s Canberra productions also sent a loud message to Australia coach Michael Cheika as well. Or at least it should have.
That was round one, so it’s still very, very early days. But after that performance, you can’t help but think World Cup, especially considering the Wallabies’ thin playmaking stocks.
And what a return that would be.
Cooper - along with Karmichael Hunt and James Slipper - was considered excess goods at Ballymore in 2018 and was exiled under Brad Thorne (although Cooper was the Reds’ only Super Rugby-winning playmaker).
He ended up playing third-tier club rugby in Brisbane, and now looks set to make up for lost time next to his long-time halfback partner Will Genia.
Going on that performance alone, the Rebels’ playmaking axis should be the one that steers Australia in Japan at the World Cup.
The Cooper-Genia halfback pairing is the third most capped partnership (71 games) in Super Rugby history, behind the Hurricanes’ TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett (91) and former Brumbies duo George Gregan and Stephen Larkham (80).
They were also instrumental in the Reds’ Super Rugby-winning season in 2011. But the digits next to their names are far from the only factor that should speak in their favour when Cheika pencils his World Cup selections.
While Cooper showed a lot of his to-be-expected balling traits against the Brumbies - like that left-foot jink, flat play, stunning passing and a no-look give or two - it was also clear that he had worked on a thing or two while in the rugby wilderness.
He didn’t disappear in defence, in fact he looked quite eager and sturdy - like when he made that try-saving tackle on Wallaby steamtrain Tevita Kuridrani - while his kicking was pin-point and raked some good distance.
Genia was also impressive with his passing and kicking, and an added linebreak or two in addition to two try-assists made his outing a superb one.
That was on the individual front, but as a pair, there is no other partnership Down Under that can run the show like Cooper and Genia when they get it right.
And if they continue getting it right, Cheika will find himself having to explain why it isn’t Cooper starting alongside Genia in Japan as opposed to why he is giving the enigmatic flyhalf another chance.@WynonaLouw