Wallabies hero Quade Cooper has credited two-time World Cup-winning All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams as someone who helped inspire his career revival.
This past Sunday, the 33-year-old, returning in his first Test in four years, showed nerves of steel to nail a 40-metre penalty after the hooter, earning Australia a thrilling 28-26 Rugby Championship win over World Cup-holders South Africa.
It capped a remarkable comeback by the Japan-based star, who converted eight-from-eight kicks for 23 points despite not playing a professional match since the end of April.
It has been a rollercoaster ride for Cooper after being dropped by Michael Cheika in 2017 and let go by the Queensland Reds.
He resorted to playing club rugby in Brisbane before a stint with the Melbourne Rebels in 2019, but missed out on selection for the World Cup that year.
However, he said that time spent living with Williams had helped him through the tough times.
“When things went a bit pear-shaped a few years ago, he was the first guy to reach out to me and I spent about two, three months with him, just living with him every day and seeing what it takes to be a good, strong man every day,” he said.
“You see him with his family, with his teammates, the dedication, the hard work he puts into his day-to-day life, not just when he turns up to footy training, about being a better man, about being better for himself.”
Speaking about Sunday’s match-winning kick, Cooper said he knew he had it in him despite the expectation that skipper Michael Hooper would turn to Reece Hodge for such a long-range effort.
“I looked at it and had a little chat to myself and said, ‘Is this your ego saying you want to take the kick? Or what’s going to benefit the team?’,” he told broadcaster Stan Sports.
“I looked over and had a little chat to Hodgey. He backed me. If your peers are backing you, you’ve got to back yourself.
“It was one of the great all-time Test matches I’ve played in.”
Meanwhile, after having such an influence in his 71st Test, Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said there was every chance Cooper could make another World Cup.
“Of course, he could,” said Rennie when asked about the playmaker’s chances of going to the next tournament in France.
“We’re not thinking too far ahead at this stage and neither is he. He was excited to get an opportunity and delivered big time.
“We’ll reassess and see how things go. But he’s keen and available for the rest of the year and we’ll make a call beyond that.”
Rennie pointed to Cooper’s confidence and experience as making the key difference to a young side that came into the clash in Gold Coast after three straight defeats by New Zealand.
“We had to be prepared to kick them a bit of ball back,” he said of the tactics employed against the Springboks.
“He had a big part to play in that. I thought he was excellent and implemented things well. Credit to him. Against the world champions, it was a hell of an effort.”
© Agence France-Presse