Under-fire Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is confident Quade Cooper will quickly return to the form that made him a genuine X-factor player 12 months ago - but will not guarantee him a start in the Nelson Mandela Plate Challenge against South Africa at Patersons Stadium on Saturday.
Cooper suffered more than physical scarring from the knee operation after a serious injury in the Rugby World Cup third-place play-off against Wales. His confidence and reputation was also blown after he came under relentless fire from New Zealanders during the tournament.
He produced a lacklustre performance when he was recalled for the disastrous 22-0 loss to New Zealand at Eden Park nine days ago.
When Deans was asked when he expected Cooper to return to form he said: "Days … hopefully.
"It takes time. It's one thing to come back to Super Rugby but international rugby is another step again.
"It takes time, particularly after an injury like he had, to get back. He'll be better for the outing he's had. When you put a lot of effort in you get a return. He's been working hard."
He would not reveal whether Cooper would start in the key playmaker role on Saturday but if he does Deans needs his forwards to get him on the front foot. He also admitted that he desperately needs consistency in his halves pairing.
However, an injury list of 26 players does not make his job any easier.
"Combinations and getting some front football for him. Obviously he thrives a lot more on the front foot than the back foot," Deans said.
"We'd much prefer continuity. Given our injury history the likelihood of that is pretty remote. Continuity would be good."
Whether he plays Cooper or not, Deans believes his side can keep the Nelson Mandela Plate, won two years ago when Kurtley Beale kicked a monstrous penalty in Bloemfontein after the siren to give them a 41-39 win.
Victory against an equally desperate Springboks, who suffered an embarrassing draw to Argentina in their last match, would firm the Wallabies' hold on the No.2 spot in the International Rugby Board rankings and lift them from bottom of the Rugby Championship.
"You've got to be confident that you can turn it around," Deans said. "They (Boks) are not dissimilar to us. They want a result out of this game. They would have been frustrated with their last outing. Both sides will be pretty keen.
"There's not too many surprises these days. We all know each others' games pretty well. We know the players very well through Super Rugby but they've got a new coach in Heyneke Meyer.
"He's added a couple of players to his group. That would suggest he's got some plans in mind.
"They may be looking to evolve their game. You can never take anything for granted.
"It's not a trophy that's easily won. The title of the trophy itself says it all. It's a trophy that sits pretty high in the ranking of prized pieces of silverware."That will add a bit of spice to the game."
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