Wallabies flyhalf Quade Cooper says says his season of rugby in France has provided him with the “reference point” he needed to become a better, more rounded player.
The enigmatic five-eighth was among Australia’s best in Saturday night’s 23-17 win over South Africa as his combination with new inside centre Bernard Foley continues to flourish.
The dual playmakers lined up together for just the second time but look set for an extended run in the team, with coach Michael Cheika’s faith in the pair justified by an improved display at Suncorp Stadium.
Cooper’s passing was crisp and his kicking intelligent, with occasional moments of brilliance helping unlock the Wallabies in attack, while Foley provided a constant running threat, finishing with a try and five penalties.
Cooper said he was in a “very good spot” and attributed that largely to his year away from the Queensland Reds.
The 28-year-old spent the past season with Toulon, and while it wasn’t exactly a runaway success – he left with a year to go on his contract – it allowed him to clear his head and approach his rugby differently.
“Before that, all I knew was the Reds – not knowing anything else, any (other) style of play,” he said.
“I was able to add things to my game, I was able to think about things that I hadn’t necessarily challenged myself with.
“You come back with a mindset of being able to compare things towards each other. That’s made myself better for it, a lot clearer in what I want and how I go about it.”
Cheika is committed to the Cooper-Foley pairing but it is hard to see much else changing around Australia’s key on-ball roles.
Halfback Will Genia was again sensational, providing the pass for Adam Coleman’s first-half try, and seems to have consigned Nick Phipps to a permanent bench spot.
Powerhouse No.13 Samu Kerevi also had by far his best game in a gold jersey, despite spurning a good chance for his maiden Test try when he was thwarted by Springboks fullback Johan Goosen early in the second half.
Cooper said Kerevi, who finished with a game-high 11 runs for 136m, had announced himself as a “world class” outside centre.
“For a young guy like that, the world’s your oyster,” he said.