At the time, Quade Cooper’s omission from the Wallabies squad that faced the British and Irish Lions was painted as a disaster for the series.
Chuck in the benefit of hindsight and we can be certain it was far, far greater than that. In a sporting sense, of course.
Australia were on borrowed time, a team floundering in what we now know were the death throes of the Robbie Deans era. The Lions, though a boon economically to a code in dire straits, arrived at precisely the wrong time.
Cooper’s absence went to the heart of it. Australia without a fit and available Cooper at 10 was akin to listening to the Stones without Jagger or watching Goodfellas minus De Niro. The man himself? He scarcely missed a beat.
Cooper ended the SuperRugby season having played all 17 games for the Queensland Reds and his style was evident in numbers that showed he off-loaded 54 times and made impressive yardage every time he carried the ball.
Yep, Cooper did just fine without the Lions, whom he faced as a Red when going to down to a 22-12 loss at the Suncorp Stadium.
In all, he missed the bones of a year of Test rugby, but his sense of perspective never seemed to skew.
“I wasn’t frustrated at all because that’s life. You can’t have everything go your way, some things you get, some things you don’t. Some things go for you, some don’t. If you let bad things hang over, you’re not going to move forward. I wasn’t there but I didn’t sit there kicking stones trying to bring people down around me. I wanted to be a positive influence on my team, the Reds. I tried to contribute as much as I could do to the team I was a part of.”
Cooper has been a controversial figure in the past but he has been co-opted on to the Wallaby leadership group as a vice-captain under McKenzie, who was coach when their Reds claimed the Super Rugby title in 2011.
The Australian coach has waxed lyrical about his playmaker, most recently this week in Dublin, with the result being that a player who has all too often been viewed as a luxury has now been embraced as a critical cog in the Wallaby machine.
“It’s kind of like recognition for all the hard work you do on and off the field,” Cooper said of McKenzie’s support. “It’s not that you need that recognition but it’s great to hear it every now and then. I’m sure it gives you an added incentive to work hard.
“I always say we are all human and if you are told you are doing your job well you are have an added incentive to continue to work hard. It’s not that you don’t work hard at your job. I would rather work hard when no one is looking to know I’m doing the right thing, but when someone does say it it’s nice, whether it is your coach or team-mates. That’s the environment we are trying to build. Everyone has a role to play.”
Cooper’s has been the subject of more interest than most. His ability to create something our of nothing is unquestioned but doubts have always persisted he was somehow too orthodox to hold such a key post.
It is hard to understand why given he led the Reds to a title with supreme consistency two years ago.
More than anything, it has been a perceived flakiness in defence which has been held up as evidence against him, but the Aussies have done their best to discount that in recent months too.
McKenzie has expressed his exasperation at the claims and statistics put together by an Australian TV network last month suggested Cooper had enjoyed a better successful tackle count ratio than — wait for it — Richie McCaw.
Whatever about that, his kicking remains less than imperious — as was evident at Twickenham a fortnight ago — but Cooper gives the impression that pressure is a rare intruder on his thoughts.
“I’m like everyone else, I hate failure. I don’t want to fail but you’ve also got to know that there will be times when you do fail and you’re not going to be perfect. I always say that as a person you can’t be shy of showing your weaknesses but also trying to work on them.
“If you go out there and think you’ve got no weaknesses then you’re never going to work on them. You’re better off going out there and expressing yourself. We’re all going out there to try and improve. Every time we’re on the training paddock we try to improve.”
Today we get to glimpse a summer that might have been.
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