IT was vintage Quade Cooper, shimmying, dummying and passing as though the ball was a yo-yo on the end of Bart Simpson’s fingers.
In one of his best Test performances in years, Cooper demonstrated against Italy in Turin the vast array of skill that on his day, makes him Australia’s most important player.
When he dummied inside and outside repeatedly near the sideline, fooling four Azzurri defenders before giving winger Nick Cummins a free run to the line, it was clear Cooper can produce moments of magic no other player in the world can conjure.
The crux is that while the 50-20 scoreline is striking, this was against Italy, a willing but clearly outmatched opponent.
Cooper must now take this form and impose it against the more structured defences of Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the coming weeks if he is to finally convince us that he is the man for the job at the northern hemisphere’s 2015 World Cup.
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Having become vice-captain of the Wallabies and impressing teammates with a new-found team-first ethic, Cooper appears as though he is developing into the solid Test match five-eighth some believed would never emerge after the horrors of the previous World Cup campaign in New Zealand.
“Determination is something I’ve never lacked, passion and drive, I always want to be the best,” Cooper said.
“I also want to contribute to my team, in a manner where on and off the field I am a key person contributing to help others improve their game as well.
“I want to improve my game, and I’ll continue to work hard at it, but wherever I can offer up and contribute to the team, I’ll be there.”
Cooper is now playing with the perfect foil at inside centre, with Matt Toomua’s calm, assured play allowing the No.10 to blossom in attack without as much pressure in also having to direct his team from difficult positions on the field.
Cooper’s vision is creating space for Israel Folau and Tevita Kuridrani to wreak havoc just wide of the midfield channels.
Cooper set up Australia’s first try with a lovely short ball to skipper Ben Mowen, who punched through the newly created gap.
Seconds before he was replaced in the 60th minute, Cooper also set up Adam Ashley-Cooper’s try with a sizzling cut-out pass that allowed the winger to cut inside a sliding defender and dive over next to the posts.
But it was his creation of Cummins’s second try just after half-time that warrants selection in any Quade Cooper tribute videos on YouTube.
“He confused some of their blokes, some of our blokes, definitely me,” Cummins said.
“At the end the ball landed in my lap, and the line was over that way, I just thought ‘I’m going to go over there’.
“There was no one there, he bamboozled everyone and I managed to get there by myself.
“Whenever Quade and Willie [Genia] have for the ball, you just be ready, they’ll do anything and you’ve got to be ready to capitalise on their talent.”
Even Cooper was happy to admit that this was, “in recent times, probably one of my best games”.
“And contributing in the whole team environment was pleasing,” he continued.
“I’ve felt from the All Blacks game [in Dunedin] that I’m slowly trying to build, and things are starting to come together.
“We had an off-game last week [against England] but the way we’re sticking together and trying to build that culture off the field is, for me, the biggest aspect we’re improving.
“Out on the field I felt good, and I think the team felt good as a whole.”
The seven-tries-to-three thrashing of Italy at Stadio Olimpico was a welcome reversal of style and scoreline from the 20-13 defeat to England the week before, but the Wallabies are yet to win two games in succession this year and must work out how.
“It’s given us great confidence, but we know it’s another step up [against Ireland], and that’s the challenge we’ve set for each other, backing up and making sure we’re not dropping off,” Cooper said.
“When you put in a good performance, that’s when the pressure is really on, when you’ve got to go out there and work even harder than the previous week after a loss.
“It’s a good challenge for us, backing up and looking to get two wins on the road.”