AT THE AGE of just 25, Quade Cooper already feels like a mainstay of world rugby.
He’s been everywhere before; he has been immovable, he’s been dropped, pilloried and deified in a tumultuous career.
Yesterday, in his Stillorgan hotel he recalled fondly a time before identikit hotels were necessary and looked forward to reacquainting himself with the Carroll family who fed and watered him during a 2005 schoolboy tour to these shores.
“It’ll be great to be able to catch up with them and thank them for their hospitality,” says the high-skilled out-half. “Everybody’s probably grown up now…”
Perhaps Cooper more than most.
After being in self-imposed exile from Robbie Deans’ “toxic” environment for most of the past year, the playmaker is back in a central role for his adopted country alongside the coach and half-back partner which hit such heights with him at the Queensland Reds.
“It’s a great relationship on and off the field,” Cooper says of his long-term inside man, Will Genia.
“When you get a good relationship off the field it starts to translate on the field. Me and Will go back to to under 16 rugby [for Queensland].
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play along side him for many years now and to be able to go out and represent your country and play with one of your best mates is a great opportunity.
“Will’s the best half-back in the world in my eyes. I’m very unfortunate to be able to play outside him – he makes my job a whole lot easier.”
The dynamic duo has been reunited for less than a month on the international scene. But after some very shaky moments on the back foot against England in Twickenham, the 50-point haul in Italy seemed a sign that the good old days were back and Cooper’s influence was strong.
As the new and improved Quade Cooper points out, though; the hard work didn’t stop at the final whistle in Turin.
“We’re building combinations and stuff and it all comes off the back of hard work. The harder you work, the better you get. The better you get the more consistent you get and it all stems back to the attitude on and off the field, how you approach training.
“For me it’s about repaying not only your coach , but also your team mates. You go out and play your heart out, but you also have to make sure when you turn up for training you try to better yourself.”
In London, Australia looked a shadow of themselves, apparently bereft of the confidence and invention that had become synonymous with the Wallabies. Ireland’s bolstered pack are hoping to force them into a similar state of instability tomorrow.
“As a back-line I like to think there are a few signs of us gelling. We’ve scored some good tries, made some good line-breaks, individually there are some great skills and individually we’re starting to see the bounce of the ball going our way – the line-breaks that we are making, we’re starting to finish.
‘Around the ruck, fighting’
“There are some freak players right across the board – Izzy [Folau], Tevita [Kuridrani] – we’ve got some big backs which in the past we probably haven’t had. It’s nice to have big skilful guys out on the field with you.”
Cooper added that he holds Jonathan Sexton in high regard, calling him ‘skilful’ and ‘competitive’ – “always around the ruck, fighting for a little inch to try and get ahead”. Yet despite Ireland’s back-line being a formidable weapon, McKenzie has his side concentrating on getting their own house in order.
“This week’s focus has all been on our own back garden, making sure we fix up all the little errors and make sure that come Saturday all those things are right.
“We’ve got no excuse, let’s go out there and put in a good performance against a class back-line.”