The calm before the storm: Ewen McKenzie and Quade Cooper take a chair before the rush of playing the Lions

By Alan Dymock

HIS RUGBY may be bohemian and his reputation grandiose, but Quade Cooper is not the arrogant mess many believe him to be. His flaw is that he needs the spotlight in order to perform.

Ever the performer: Flamboyant Cooper

That can be as much help as it is a hindrance, but it guarantees entertainment from the fly-half. So when the Queensland Reds not only named a strong starting 15 to play against the Lions at the Suncorp Stadium on Saturday, but made Cooper their captain, they ensured that all eyes would be on the New Zealand-born playmaker. They have effectively plastered the make-up on him, fastened his tap shoes, poked him onto the stage and said: “dance.”

The kid can move, though, and this is when he is at his most dangerous. Of course, the rugby player-turned-boxer has to play up to the role and can try too much or sometimes prods little kick over the top too soon, but if he is at his bombastic best or his play is patchy is irrelevant. He will be unpredictable and at the very worst will still starve the Lions of rhythm.

Head coach Ewen McKenzie has taken an educated gamble by making Cooper his captain. He knows Cooper will try his best to dazzle and he will wreak some form of havoc or another. Win and the head coach underlines his credentials as a top operator. Lose and he has given the Lions his best shot –  even though he was expected to lose anyway –  and gained kudos for respecting the tourists in the process.

A lot is at stake for Cooper personally, too. Although he is heavily backed to win a place in the greater Australian squad when six extra places are filled next week, he cannot be certain of his inclusion and must put in a decent turn.

Wise old heads: The Lions coaches will be wary of Cooper

That is something the world’s audience also want. If we ignore the perpetual assertion that Will Genia – arguably the best scrum-half on the planet right now – is a better player when he is aiming his passes at Cooper, it must be pointed out that the stand-off is supremely talented. He could turn a game on a sixpence if given the chance.

If Genia is a must for gladiatorial Lions duty, so is Cooper. The loss of injured players is a shame for the series; to not have a game-changer taking part because he was flighty and loose with his lips last time he left Australian camp seems criminal for the sake of the series.

Perhaps that is selfish, but it is a time to be self-indulgent. We want entertainment, we want characters, we want a cheeky villain with gold dust in his boots. He wants to be there too, and he wants to prove a point. What is there to lose? Well, depending on the outcome tomorrow, Robbie Deans may lose a little face, if only so he can gain an in-form, hungry fly-half.

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