Quade Cooper may well provide the X-Factor in this weekend’s Super 15 Final in Brisbane but he is also set to prove that his free-running approach should not be seen as a weak link for either club or country.
The mercurial Wallaby fly-half is expected to play a major role on Saturday as the Reds look for a first Super Rugby title in 16 years.
The table-topping Queenslanders face former champions the Crusaders at the Suncorp Stadium and Cooper’s coach Ewen McKenzie is backing the 22-year-old to produce his best on the big stage.
But while praise of his ball handling skills is now common place, question marks still surround Cooper’s ability to defend his own channel and to successfully steer his ship when things get tight and the pressure cranks up.
Those supposed weaknesses are likely to be highlighted by Dan Carter and his ruthless Canterbury co stars but McKenzie insists Cooper is already a far more responsible player than he was at this stage of last season.
''Quade's definitely a better footballer than he was 12 months ago. He has a far broader range of skills now,'' said McKenzie in reference to the man the Wallaby hierarchy hope will lead them to World Cup glory this autumn and to series success against the Lions in 2013.
''He has the X-factor, which everyone marvels at. But he is also much better at making decisions around when and where, and he can control a game pretty well.
''He's a good talker, and likes our system of play because there is a lot of opportunity in it.
''It doesn't just revolve around taking big risks. He can also close it down. You just have to look at the field goal he kicked at the end of the Blues game. We needed to be more than two scores up, and we had worked hard on the field goal strategy when required. And that was a good time to pop one over. He set it up and got it done.''
Cooper will start Saturday’s southern hemisphere showdown outside fellow Wallaby star Will Genia, with the scrum-half having pipped him to the Australian Super Rugby Player of the Year Award last month.
The dynamic duo have become the lynchpin of a much-improved Reds team and an Australian national side that looks set to get better with time in the lead up to the Lions tour.
Unsurprisingly, Crusaders coach and former All Black back row Todd Blackadder knows his men will have to keep a close eye on Cooper and Genia if the New Zealanders are to claim an eighth Super crown.
"Quade Cooper has just been in unbelievable form, he is taking on defensive lines and breaking them,'' said Blackadder.
"I think the Reds will just keep playing to their strengths and that is a good counter-attack and continuity game.
"They have got Genia running around the sides of the rucks with their forwards and they can roll out the back to Cooper. When they get on the front foot they have got a lot of threats and we have got to be defensively sound.''