Michael Cheika says he can’t understand the hate for Quade Cooper as the maligned Wallabies five-eighth prepares to re-enter the international spotlight in New Zealand.
Cooper is set to make his first Test appearance since last year’s World Cup in Saturday night’s second Bledisloe Cup clash in Wellington, where a sold-out Westpac Stadium crowd will be baying for his blood once again.
The 28-year-old has been tormented by New Zealand crowds in the past for perceived slights against Richie McCaw, with even All Blacks coach Steve Hansen conceding on Thursday that Cooper is perhaps unfairly treated across the ditch.
Even back home in Australia, Cooper has supporters and critics in equal measure for his occasionaly silky smooth but often erratic style of play.
Cheika, however, remains an unabashed fan.
“I don’t know why he’s a polarising figure because, to me, he’s not that person,” Cheika told reporters.
“The lad’s doing his best every day in training here, the only relationship I’ve had with him is here.
“Everything he’s done has been A1 for me.
“I like him, I back him, I think he’s a good person and a very, very good rugby player.
“Here’s an opportunity for him to show it to as many people who are watching.”
Cooper is coming off a mixed year, having played the first part for French glamour club Toulon before an unsuccessful attempt at cracking Australia’s rugby sevens team for the Rio Olympics.
His last visit to New Zealand ended in a dreary 41-13 defeat at Eden Park for Australia, with his second-half sin binning for a high shot on Aaron Smith a vital moment in what was a Bledisloe Cup decider.
“That was a long time ago. There’s been so much in between,” Cooper said.
“It’s just another game of rugby against the best in the world. Something that’s pretty exciting if you ask me.”