Quade Cooper ready to bring bag of tricks for Sexton match-up

Australia outhalf has been out of favour lately but is expected to get nod on Saturday

Portraying Quade Cooper as an artist is based on the empirical evidence of his performances as a rugby player. Suggesting that the New Zealand-born, Wallaby international is a maverick draws heavily on that bespoke talent but the description travels to the other side of the whitewash – he's outspoken too and doesn't shy away from the physical side of the game.

The 26-year-old won't back down from a challenge, whether that means climbing into a boxing ring à la Sonny Bill Williams – Cooper has two wins from as many fights – or offering a controversial opinion, as he did under former Australia coach, once removed, Robbie Deans, when using the word 'toxic' to describe the playing environment back in 2012.

His conjuror’s sleight of hand and dazzling footwork are easy on the eye but there’s nothing of the show pony about a willingness to get tough, and he has picked up a occasional suspension along the way .

Toughest battle

In his six years at Test level, he’s also fought off knee and shoulder injuries, but his toughest battle now is to displace


Bernard Foley

, who was Michael Cheika’s playmaker when the Waratahs won this season’s Super 15 title. Foley was man of the match too in Australia’s recent victory over Wales and started against France last weekend.

Cooper came on as a replacement for wing Joe Tomane, but the suggestion is that Cheika will hand him the number 10 jersey against Ireland. The reason is largely immaterial to Cooper. He refuses to subscribe to the linear thinking of others.

He explains: “It’s a different opportunity for me to learn under a new coach. ‘Cheiks’ has got a lot of great ideas. His philosophy about rugby and the way he approaches each day is something that’s been different for me and something I have really enjoyed. I am looking forward to learning more and becoming a better player and better person under his guidance.

“When you get a new coach, they come in with different ideas, different views on each player and everyone has to adapt to that. Everybody has the same mindset in trying to do whatever it takes to make this team a better one.”

Cooper goes on to explain that Cheika encourages players to be expressive rather than inhibited in the way they play, the only rider precluding self-indulgence at the expense of the team. “He’s very passionate about being physical and I think that’s shown in our training. It’s very intense, very physical, there’s no time to take a breath.

“I think that’s what this team has to build on the back of, making sure we’re a very hard team. If we continue to do that, continue to follow his guidance, this team will be a lot better for it.” Cheika’s knowledge of Irish rugby and its players, gleaned from his five years at Leinster, is something the Australians will draw upon.

“Cheika has a lot of history here in Ireland,” says Cooper. “Coming back as the national coach is a great challenge for him. He is always up for challenges. He’s been speaking to the team about the challenges this tour offers, personally and from a team point of view.”

Two of Cooper’s seven tries for Australia have come against Ireland, most recently this time last year when he produced a brilliant performance in helping to dismantle the home side.

He recalls: “Ireland didn’t play bad at all this time last year – I think we played very well. This year they are going to be hungry to put in a better performance and so are we. That’s our sole focus.”

Best football

One player he’s looking forward to playing against is the recent IRB World Player of the Year nominee

Jonathan Sexton

. “I think he’s just a class act. He showed throughout the Lions series [against Australia, 2013] some of the best football he’s played.

“He continues to get better. I’ve always enjoyed playing against him from a personal standpoint.

“For me, I love the way he plays for an Irish flyhalf. He’s not a traditional Irish flyhalf, who sits in the pocket and kicks. He likes to run. He loves to have a few little trick plays: him being shortlisted for the IRB player of the year is well-deserved. Hopefully, we’ll get the best Jonathan Sexton on the weekend and we can overcome that.”

Ireland rugby supporters might say something similar about Cooper.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer