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Quade Cooper happy just 'holding pads' as swagger is lost with his starting jersey

The out-half sounded strangely withdrawn as he said he’s striving to be a better person under Michael Cheika’s guidance.

WHILE MICHAEL CHEIKA Will be treading on familiar personal territory this week, Quade Cooper, professionally, is wading through some uncharted water.

When Cooper was in Dublin this time last year, he spoke of the Wallabies focusing on their own game, improving his own offering and even a little about how the team was gelling under a new coach.

The new coach is now the old coach, but Cooper was still singing from the same hymn-sheet yesterday.

The only problem is, he didn’t carry the tune.

Quade Cooper 17/11/2014 Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The big difference 12 months has made for Cooper is his status with the Wallabies. Despite sparkling in the morale-boosting win last time out in Dublin, Cooper returns as the understudy. Michael Cheika is again likely to put Bernard Foley at the wheel as he continues to help the national side adapt to the Waratahs way. Now, maybe it was the cool air that settled in the halls of Killiney Castle, but the diminished responsibility seems to have taken the air out of Cooper’s sails.

“It’s a different opportunity,” the 26-year-old says, “to learn under a new coach. Cheiks has got a a lot of great ideas. And his philosophy about rugby and the way he approaches each day is something that’s been different for me. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed.

“Now I’m just looking forward to learning each day and, hopefully, becoming a better player and a better person under his guidance.”

Whatever your feelings about his history in speaking out – the ‘Toxic’ comments and all of that – telling the world that Cheika is helping to make him a better man sounds a little too much like indoctrination, a little too pre-programmed for a man who, at his best, is the most inventive player in the game.

“Not at all,” insists Cooper after TheScore.ie suggests he may have to change his game to dislodge Foley and win back the Test number 10 jersey.

Different

“Cheiks’ style of play is all about bringing out the best, bringing your strengths and what you have to offer to the table – making those strengths seem bigger than what they are.

“He encourages each player to bring that. But in terms of the way we’re playing, it’s different to what I’ve been used to, but at the same time it’s a great opportunity to learn. I’m loving learning under this environment and hopefully I can continue to grow as a player.”

Quade Cooper and Jake Schatz 17/11/2014 Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The New Zealand-born playmaker may well have braced himself to spend some time breaking back into the side after four months out with a shoulder injury, but all this just feels like he was protesting too much:

“I’m just happy to be back in and around the squad, being able to contribute to the team – whether it’s holding pads, being out on the field, giving advice to guys. That is my sole focus, that I can come out of this a better person, a better player and a better team-mate on the back of a good team.”

Whatever about relegating him to the bench, the idea of Cooper doing nothing more than holding tackle bags out on the training field is a very grim picture – he’s a piano player, not a mover.

The one occasion when Cooper’s voice was as convincing as his play was when it came time to assess how Ireland had improved since that 15 – 32 win in Dublin 12 months ago.

Quade Cooper kicks Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Ireland didn’t play bad at all last year,” Cooper bristled with the robotic responses shelved for another time.

“I think we played pretty well. This year they’re going to be hungry to put in a better performance and so are we. That’s what you do each week as professional footballers, especially at the top level you want to be better and better.”

His attitude remains consistent, but application can be difficult when you’re sitting on the bench and behind it.

Originally published 06.30

Quade Cooper: Cheika hammering focus and ‘mental edge’ home for Wallabies

Everybody’s happy to have Kurtley Beale back in the squad — Quade Cooper

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Sean Farrell

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