One of the potential stars of the next Lions tour has praised a pair of current Lions ahead of Australia’s autumn trip to Europe.
Quade Cooper is the shining light of Wallaby rugby having already established himself as his country’s first-choice fly-half at the tender age of 22.
The Queensland Reds playmaker has earned plaudits worldwide for his outstanding attacking skills and his ability to create something from nothing at the very top level.
Having just turned down a lucrative rugby league offer to sign a one-year extension to his contract with the Australian Rugby Union, Cooper looks set to continue to run the show for the Wallabies until after next year’s World Cup.
And while his future after that remains uncertain, Cooper’s immediate focus is on an autumn schedule that features clashes with New Zealand, Wales, Leicester Tigers, England, Munster, France and Italy.
The tour kicks off against the All Blacks in Hong Kong on October 30, with the Millennium Stadium encounter with Wales next up on November 6.
There Cooper is set to go head-to-head with Stephen Jones, the man who wore the Lions No10 jersey in South Africa last summer, and the young Aussie is clearly looking forward to the challenge of facing a man whom he has the greatest of respect for.
“Stephen Jones has been around for a long time and when I was growing up he was the Welsh 10,” said Cooper.
“A guy like him, he’s got so much experience and his skill set is very wide. He can kick off both feet, he’s got a good running game and his defence is very good for a five eighth.
“A guy like him is always very tough to analyse and when you are preparing to go up against him you have to cover a lot of tape to look at his game.
“He is someone I look up to and hopefully I can learn from him when I’m playing against him. Hopefully it will be a good contest as well.”
Stephen Jones was first-choice fly-half in all three Tests for the 2009 Lions
And it’s not just Jones for whom Cooper is full of admiration.
Former IRB World Player of the Year Shane Williams has unsurprisingly been highlighted as one to watch by the Wallaby 10.
Williams is now his country’s record try scorer and has the experience of two successive Lions tours to his name. And having collected a brace of tries in the Lions’ third-Test win over the Springboks last summer, the Ospreys flyer has proved he can produce the goods on the biggest stage of all.
“He is always a dangerous man – he’s very quick on his feet, he’s sort of a link man in the Welsh team,” added Cooper.
“If he is on fire and they can get him a lot of ball he is going to carve any side up so it’s going to be a tough night at the office if he is out on the field.”
But while Williams and Jones have been identified as Welsh dangermen, Cooper himself will surely have been highlighted by every single one of Australia’s autumn opponents.
The mercurial playmaker has shown he can tear even the world’s best teams apart when given half a chance, particularly when he is selected at outside-half rather than outside centre.
And there’s no doubt that outside-half is where Cooper wants to play.
“Hopefully I get to stay at 10 – I’ve enjoyed my time at 10 this year and I'm feeling pretty comfortable in the team at the moment.
“We are starting to build pretty good combinations with myself and Gits [Matt Giteau] and a few of the other players.
“James O’Connor on the wing, Kurtley Beale at full back – things are starting to work out for us so hopefully we can keep building these combinations as it’s not so long from the World Cup.”
Quade Cooper directs Australian affairs from outside-half
That momentum will be severely tested this month and next as the Wallabies first look to avoid an 11th straight defeat to the Kiwis, before playing six games in four weeks against European opposition.
Cooper is fed up of losing to the All Blacks but he is fully aware that the Wallabies will need to be on their game if they are to avoid a similar scenario against Warren Gatland’s Wales.
Cooper was part of the Australia side that won in Cardiff last year but he also tasted defeat the previous season when Wales secured their most recent success over southern hemisphere opposition.
“Wales play a great brand of football – something very similar to the All Blacks.
“They have a great skill set, they’ve got a very big pack and they will be a very good test for us leading into the European leg of the tour.
"The tour isn’t going to be easy and obviously kick starting that off with a formidable opponent like Wales is a tough proposition.
"But I love playing at the Millennium Stadium. It’s a great atmosphere and playing against the Welsh is great because they have a great style of football so it’s always an exciting game.
“The whole day leading up to it is just great. You walk around and you see everyone with their rugby jerseys on, albeit everyone is wearing red.
"It’s all part and parcel of it, you get in the bus and drive to the ground, all the streets are packed out. It’s all a great atmosphere and you don’t get that anywhere else in the world. Playing at Cardiff in the Millennium Stadium with 75,000 singing Welsh – its something that I really cherish.
“Coming over there to a country which is very passionate about rugby where their rugby team is a very good one is something I look forward to."