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Cooper

GORDON BRAY: Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Quade Cooper has patiently bided his time over the past year, re-evaluating both his life and his professional sporting passion.

Judgement was made by others following his “toxic Wallaby environment” comment. He subsequently copped the punishment on the chin and in the hip pocket.

Super XV with the Reds and a supportive Ewen McKenzie then gave him the chance to rebuild confidence and embody a new maturity on and off the field. It was a time to embrace rugby without the immediate prospect of Wallaby honours.

Cooper’s attack stats for ball carries and offloads this season were just behind Israel Folau’s benchmark. He played all seventeen matches and helped the Reds to the Finals. He also put the wind up the Lions on a memorable night at Suncorp.

Whilst Quade has always enjoyed the highest respect from Reds’ teammates there were bridges to rebuild in the Wallaby camp. Winning back the respect of senior teammates has been an ongoing process since his recall.

McKenzie resisted the temptation to start Cooper against the All Blacks. In hindsight, a very smart move. Instead youngster Matt Toomua slotted into the vacant fly half role and looks destined for a long career at national level.

However two cameos off the bench by Cooper gave a pointer to future direction. In particular at ANZ Stadium in Bledisloe 1, despite some errors, he changed the backline dynamic by taking the ball to the line and creating space.

His wide passing game also unleashed opportunities and it was noticeable that Christian Leali’ifano relished the change of pace and focus. Similarly this week, Israel Folau will be a Cooper target. Indeed the pair will look for each other.

One challenge this Saturday night is to construct as many touches as possible for the outside backs. Adam Ashley-Cooper is a prime example. He barely saw the ball in Wellington and clearly was a frustrated man when belatedly replaced.

Quade’s greatest attribute is his unpredictability. Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer wasn’t joking when he said he would love to have the Wallaby playmaker in his side.  Quick front foot possession behind that forward pack would be scary.

But let’s not get ahead of the ballgame. In the eyes of many, Cooper still has to prove himself all over again at this level. Can his kicking game provide the necessary control and will his much maligned defence be up to the mark?

What better cauldron then to provide those answers in the affirmative than his home patch? And what better partner than new Wallaby captain Will Genia? The champion scrum half is poised to take his game to new heights at Suncorp.

The Springboks will look to bludgeon the Wallabies with their behemoth forward pack. This juggernaut tips the scales at 925 kgs or 115 kgs per man. That’s a menacing athletic average of nearly 18 ½  stone. Size is everything to the Bokkie.

Their broad plan is to tackle and pressure aggressively, smash at the breakdown, control the set pieces and fully test Folau and co. under the high ball. Then when the attacking moment arrives, use quick ball to pulverize and outflank the defence.

Genia’s men also have to negate the Springboks’ lethal driving maul which is generated off their lineout ball.  The Wallabies’ best solution is to avoid kicking the ball out, a tactic Argentina successfully executed in Mendoza two weeks ago.

You can also be certain that the Wallabies have been working on their 22m exit strategy from restarts.  Morne Steyn’s pinpoint accuracy and Bryan Habana’s lightning chase applies enormous pressure on the defending team.

Forward coach Andrew Blades will also be demanding all hands on deck at scrum time.  Sekope Kepu’s selection at tight head provides extra bulk for the challenge of Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira.

Under the new scrum laws, all eight forwards need to stay pressured with uniform low body height, especially the backrowers supporting the props. That lesson was driven home by the All Blacks in Wellington.

Just six of the original Wallaby starters against the Lions at Suncorp eleven weeks ago remain in the same positions this weekend. Coach McKenzie has selected a team to play at pace and attack and stretch their bigger opponents.

The Wallabies tried the tactic in Bledisloe 1 but the team was not ready and basic mistakes ensued. Three weeks on, the Men in Gold are better prepared and more comfortable in themselves. None moreso, I suspect, than the new man wearing his old no.10 jumper.