Rugby's perfect No 10 could meet his match today in a player whose imperfections are part of his charm.
Daniel Carter, the game's perfect brain packaged in a silky machine of surprising pace and power, has been rugby's finest playmaker pretty much since he first donned the black of New Zealand black in 2003. The Crusaders fly-half is as close to the perfect 10 as you'll see, with his style on the field straight out of the manual and a tactical nous that reveals a dedicated and serious student of the game.
The talents of the Australian Quade Cooper are more mercurial. You'll find very little of his game in the Carter textbook. His kicking for distance can be loose and he is prone to the odd stunning gaffe, but when the muse strikes, the Queensland Reds fly-half can be near impossible to contain.
This morning Cooper, the rising star who has chosen a World Cup year in which to ascend, compares his talents with Carter, the pair having guided their sides to the Super 15 final in Brisbane.
Carter's path was as well-documented as it was arduous. The February earthquake that levelled the Crusaders' hometown of Canterbury and swamped their ground sent the side on a globetrotting campaign as perennial visitors in a competition where it hurts to be away from home.
His well-rounded game has no particular weakness. His greatest strength is his decision-making. Cooper, on the other hand, stakes all his chips on attack.
Much of Cooper's play is reminiscent of Carlos Spencer, the man Carter succeeded in the All Black No 10 jersey. A guy whose first, second and third instinct was to play the game with wit, to leave spectators, opponents and – a little too often – his support players wondering what on Earth he would do next. Spencer was terrific to watch – except when it all went wrong. But he always made footy fun, as does Cooper.
Born in the Waikato region of New Zealand, Cooper is at the heart of a golden age in Queensland rugby. Forget winning the Super 15; the Reds have been attracting bigger crowds than the Brisbane Broncos in Australian league's heartland. In the ongoing turf war between oval-ball footy codes that dictates Aussie rugby's every move, Cooper's theatrics and dash are a decisive edge.
Away from the playing field, the differences between Dan and Quade are just as pronounced.
On a drunken night out on the Gold Coast in December 2009, Cooper had a run-in with the law that nearly ended his nascent international rugby career. He was caught with an allegedly stolen laptop and arrested on burglary charges. The matter was settled out of court, the charges were dropped and the Australian Rugby Union put Cooper on a short leash. Quitting the booze has definitely helped.
Cooper spoke of it as a wake-up call. "The best that has come of it is that it has made me focus more," he said. "People have always said I have good skills on the field, but I guess I have just lacked that focus."
Carter, for what it's worth, would no sooner be collared by police in the small hours of the morning accused of carrying stolen merchandise than would he chuck a no-look cut-out pass under his own posts. A product of the well-to-do Christchurch Boys High, his life off the pitch – like his game – is pretty much by the book.
In the goalkicking stakes, there's no comparison. Cooper's wayward kicking meant the easy victory the Reds deserved in last week's semifinal against the Blues was always just out of reach. He landed only three from seven, with some shocking misses along the way.
He takes an odd stance before striking the ball, his arms out to one side like a Russian Kalinka dancer frozen in time or – worryingly – like a non-kicker parodying the self-conscious approach of the side's full-time kicker. Still, he's hitting 69 per cent for the season, not too far off Carter's 74 per cent, although Carter will happily attempt tougher shots than his Reds opposite.
Carter's goalkicking, like the rest of his game, is strictly efficient. He's been banging them over for the All Blacks since 2003 and will do so again this morning.
For all the attention on the two men in the No 10 jerseys, another figure might yet hold the key to this Super 15 final. The appointment of a New Zealand referee, Bryce Lawrence, to control the match has struck a rough note with commentators of the game in Australia.
When these sides met in pool play, Australian referee Stu Dickinson decided the result with a last-minute ruck penalty against Richie McCaw that had many in the Land of the Long White Cloud fuming. Cooper landed the goal from right in front of the sticks.
If Lawrence – with a more Kiwi assessment of the terms of ruck engagement – strikes one back for the New Zealanders, expect Carter to do the honours and look out for thunder over the Tasman Sea.
Super 15 Final Details
Queensland Reds v N Zealand Crusaders
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, 10.40am
*TV Sky Sports 2, HD2, 10.30am-1pm
*Height 6ft 1in
*Weight 14st 8lbs
*Club Queensland Reds
*Super Rugby Apps/Pts 62/390
*International Apps/Pts 24/41
*International debut November 2008, v Italy in Padova
*Height 5ft 10in
*Weight 14st 11lb
*Clubs Canterbury, Crusaders
*Super Rugby Apps/Pts 94/1259
*International Apps/Pts 79/1188
*International debut June 2003, v Wales in HamiltonReuse content