Former Wallabies star Quade Cooper has produced a blistering Super Rugby debut for Melbourne Rebels, playing a starring role in their 34-27 victory over the Brumbies.
In reigniting his halves partnership with former Queensland and Australian teammate Will Genia, Cooper didn’t miss a beat after spending the entire 2018 season in Brisbane club rugby exile.
The Brumbies started the stronger against their Australian conference rivals at GIO Stadium on Friday night, but once the Rebels settled they were the more assured side.
The home side went into the break leading 22-19, but their only try of the second half came through a consolation effort to lock Sam Carter with two minutes left.
Melbourne clamped down defensively but hooker Anaru Rangi and winger Jack Maddocks were also able to cross for crucial tries in the second half.
The Brumbies drew first blood in the match through a try to hooker Folau Faingaa and a Christian Lealiifano penalty.
But in a topsy-turvy first-half which produced six tries, the Rebels reduced the deficit soon after as centre Tom English and Maddocks capitalised on some sloppy Brumbies defence.
The home crowd was fuming as Maddocks took advantage of an errant kick from Brumbies centre Irae Simone and ran in unopposed.
It was Melbourne’s third consecutive win against the Brumbies, something Rebels coach Dave Wessels took great pride in.
“Canberra is a hell of hard place to come and play,” he told reporters.
“These sort of derbies are massive for us because not only do you get the win, but they don’t get the win so it’s like an eight point swing.”
Former Wallaby Greg Martin called Cooper’s performance the most commanding from an Australian fly-half in three years.
Wessels is delighted the Cooper is wearing the Rebels’ No.10 jersey.
“(Cooper’s) probably a once-in-a-generation player, he can do some things that make you go ‘gee, how did that happen,” Wessels said.
“He played to a framework that he’s helped create, that he believes in, and I think he enjoyed himself out there.”
Rebels captain Dane Haylett-Petty said Cooper’s composure on and off the field was already benefiting the team.
“We know how much flair he can bring, but him and ‘Willie’ (Genia) led us around and even we were down, we felt calm,” Haylett-Petty said.
Brumbies captain Christian Lealiifano said it was good for Australian rugby to have Cooper back but thought the halves duel was evenly matched.
“I felt like they (Genia and Cooper) didn’t contribute as much as I thought they would, I felt we were in control, but the times we weren’t they punished us,” Lealiifano said.
The Brumbies’ first round one loss at home since 2000 was made worse by John Eales medallist David Pocock lasting just five minutes after failing a concussion test.
Pocock copped a heavy early knock was replaced on the field by former Crusaders flanker Pete Samu and is in doubt to play the Chiefs next Saturday night.
Wingers Toni Pulu (cheekbone) and Henry Speight (hip) also failed to see out the game.
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said it was disappointing to see a number of tries go begging.
“There’s a lot of positive things but we weren’t good enough to take the opportunities when they were presented,” McKellar said.
“There were some really good signs with our attack in patches but it was just that last pass probably hurt us when points were on offer.”
A positive for the Brumbies was the club debut James Slipper as the former Queensland Reds skipper played well before swapping with Wallabies prop Scott Sio after 50 minutes.