Cooper sidesteps media conference
It may have been the pressure, but Quade Cooper’s return to the international rugby spotlight on Thursday lasted less than it takes the mercurial flyhalf to take a shot at goal.
Cooper was recalled to the Australia side on Thursday for their must-win Rugby Championship clash against New Zealand at Eden Park, but left reporters speculating about his state of mind as he walked out of a media conference after answering only one question.
The 24-year-old will play his first match for the Wallabies in 10 months since suffering a sickening knee injury at the same ground during the World Cup.
Renowned for his incisive passing and quick feet, the New Zealand-born playmaker had a poor World Cup to the delight of his countrymen and ironically suffered the injury when attempting one of his characteristic side-steps in the third-place playoff against Wales.
His famed evasive skills were on full display in Sydney on Thursday, however, as he ducked away from Australian reporters eager for his thoughts on his recall for Saturday’s game.
“That’s all I want to say is, I’m back. I’m fit, healthy — I’m ready to go. And I’ll see everybody at Eden Park,” Cooper said at Leichhardt Oval.
With that, he bent down to put a microphone he had been holding on the turf and turned to leave the media pack.
Asked if he had anything else to add, he muttered: “No, that’s it”, as he stalked off. The whole exchange lasted between 10 and 13 seconds, according to stunned local media.
‘FOUR MORE YEARS’
Cooper’s media snub may have been prompted by a desire to avoid questions of his last outing against the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final.
Dubbed ‘Public Enemy Number One’ in his homeland after some alleged dirty play on All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, he was greeted by a barrage of jeers from the crowd when the ground announcer ran down the teams before kickoff of the semi-final.
He started the match by kicking the ball into touch and played poorly thereafter as the All Blacks shut down his time and space.
He ended it by being unceremoniously dumped over the touchline by winger Richard Kahui as the crowd chanted “four more years”, in reference to the taunt by former Australia scrumhalf George Gregan during the semi-final defeat of the All Blacks at the 2003 World Cup.
Cooper was applauded by a more sympathetic crowd when he hobbled off the ground injured against Wales, but can expect the reception from the fans to be frosty again on Saturday when he runs into the lions’ den of a sold-out Eden Park.
He will also be heading into the game without the benefit of match fitness, having been overlooked for June tests against Scotland and Wales, and the Wallabies’ opening loss to the All Blacks in Sydney last week.
All Blacks players said Cooper remained a threat regardless of his previous failure to fire against them.
“He can do anything from anywhere,” All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg said, adding that his team’s task would be to prevent Cooper from doing his “fancy stuff”.
All Blacks winger Cory Jane said he felt the off-field reception might serve to inspire him.
“Everywhere he goes there’s probably people getting into him. In some parts he might enjoy it,” Jane said.
“Obviously if they’re down on the scoreboard it might not be so fun for him but I think he fires off it.”
Australia (revised): 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (c), 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: To be confirmed.