Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has backed the cool head of Quade Cooper to overcome any threat the star flyhalf might go overboard to prove a point to Argentina mentor Michael Cheika on Sunday morning.
Having missed Australia’s 2-1 series loss to England with a calf injury, the fit-again Cooper reclaimed the Wallabies’ No.10 jersey from Noah Lolesio for the Rugby Championship Test in Mendoza.
It continues the 34-year-old playmaker’s remarkable international resurgence after being given the chance by Rennie in 2021 to revive his Wallabies career.
Cooper didn’t play a Test for more than four years after being dropped and subsequently snubbed by Cheika during his time as Wallabies coach.
There is little love between the pair, with Cooper tweeting “If he cared about Aus rugby he would have done it a while ago” after Cheika quit as Australia’s coach following the Wallabies’ disappointing quarter-final exit at the 2019 World Cup.
However, Rennie is confident Cooper won’t let his emotions get the better of him in what’s sure to be a pressure-cooker atmosphere on Sunday.
“The ‘Cheik’ thing, we haven’t spoken about it at all,” Rennie said.
“I certainly haven’t spoken to him (Cooper) about anything that’s historical. His focus is on playing well for us and we expect them to do that.
“He’s trained really well. His experience and the quality of his skill set is really evident when we train as well.
“We’ve got a clear plan of how we want to play … that was the impressive thing about Quade last year (in the Rugby Championship).
“We had a plan going into the game that he implemented really well. We have a clear plan this time.
“Maybe as a young man, it was it was important for him to play well and dominate the game, but he’s doing it in different ways now.”
“He’s just got a great understanding of the game when we talk about little details around who we’re trying to sit down and how we’re trying to create space for others.
“His visibility to share that and convey it to the other players is excellent, and he’s been more than happy to sit down in front of the computer and share his knowledge; it’s been great for all our young men.”
Rennie said Cooper and some of the other current Wallabies had an “understanding” of how Cheika would prepare the Pumas.
“He (Cheika has coached a handful of the guys in our group, and they’ve got a bit of an understanding of how he works,” he said.
“They kicked the ball the least of the tier one teams in recent Test series and so we think that will continue; they’ll play a lot and so there’s a bit of risk and reward there.
“Some of their attack was excellent, and they scored some unbelievable tries.
“Our job is to try to force some errors from that. Whether they’ll alter that a little bit, we’ve planned for both, but Cheik’s got an optimistic mindset and I think they’ll want to play, and our players will realise it.”
Wallabies team to play Argentina: James Slipper, Folau Fainga’a, Allan Alaalatoa, Darcy Swain, Matt Philip, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Rob Valetini, Nic White, Quade Cooper, Marika Koroibete, Hunter Paisami, Len Ikitau, Jordan Petaia, Tom Wright. Replacements: Lachlan Lonergan, Matt Gibbon, Taniela Tupou, Nick Frost, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, Reece Hodge.