Quade Cooper can claim a head-start in the battle to be the Wallabies’ premier World Cup playmaker after coach Michael Cheika threw his weight behind the mercurial five-eighth to fire against South Africa.
Cooper and long-time halves partner Will Genia will be the focus of intense scrutiny after being reunited for Australia in Saturday night’s Rugby Championship opener at Suncorp Stadium.
Cheika acknowledged on Friday he agonised over the decision to go with the Test veteran pair – who featured at the 2011 World Cup – ahead of incumbents Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps and indicated their more diverse playbook swayed him.
Cooper has also helped steered the Wallabies to victory in seven of his 11 previous clashes with the Springboks.
“I just thought these two lads were the right guys to do the job in this Test match,” Cheika said.
“The skill set they’ve got is something that I want to see them use against South Africa, the variation they might bring to the game.
“It was a very difficult choice but it’s one I really believe in.”
The reality is a strong performance from Cooper and Genia will put them in the box seat as Cheika’s first-choice options against any side.
There are only five Tests left before Australia’s opening World Cup clash against Fiji and, while Foley and Phipps are by no means out of the picture, the former Queensland Reds pair suit Cheika’s attacking gameplan to a tee.
Captain Stephen Moore admitted time was of the essence for the Wallabies, who have crammed into their eight months under Cheika the kind of in-depth preparations most nations spread across a whole World Cup cycle.
“You look at the calendar and it’s three and a bit months and the World Cup’s over,” Moore said.
“It’s an unbelievably short period of time so we need to really focus on getting it right early and getting some momentum before we go over there.”
Confident they can get the ball rolling against the Springboks, Moore also warned not to expect too much too soon from the new-look Wallabies.
They could take time to gel with a completely new combination around the scrumbase and inside backs, including the return of veteran Matt Giteau at inside centre alongside Cooper and Genia and the preference for Scott Higginbotham over incumbent Ben McCalman at No.8.
“We know it’s not going to be the finished product tomorrow, it’s not going to go perfectly, but we’ll go out there and do our best,” said Moore.
“If we can do that every week I think our fans will be proud.”
Above all else, Cheika said he just wants to see the Wallabies play with passion.
“What we want to do is be true to the team we said we wanted to be, the identity we said we want to have, work hard and like I’ve said a few times – and it’s not just lip service – making our supporters proud of the way we play,” he said.
“Then we can grow off that every week.”