Quade Cooper will have all eyes on him on Saturday night. Photo: Getty Images
It's time for Quade Cooper to put up or shut up - after six months of bad-mouthing the Wallabies, injuries and a boxing debut, Rod Kafer says the Queensland Reds' linchpin needs to prove he can handle the pressure created by his flamboyant personality.
Just eight days after stepping into the ring for his first boxing match, Cooper will lead the Reds into their fight with the ACT Brumbies at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night.
The flyhalf is no stranger to controversy or attention and the preparation for his seventh Super Rugby campaign has been anything but normal.
But in the past the 24-year-old has crumbled under the pressure from his off-field antics and Kafer says it's time for Cooper to stand tall.
Cooper was fined $40,000 by the ARU last year after he said the Wallabies had a ''toxic'' environment and he wouldn't play for the team until things were fixed.
''I think there's a fair bit for [Cooper] to prove and I think he'll be keen to come out there and try to play as well as he can,'' Kafer said.
''I commend him for taking some risks, he spoke up on his beliefs and we might not agree or understand them, but he had the courage to speak up.
''I think the pressure hurts him. I haven't ever seen him be a player who has responded well to the pressure … we have to remember he's young and he's got improving to do.''
The outspoken playmaker crumbled under pressure at the World Cup in New Zealand two years ago when the Kiwi crowds turned on him and booed every time he got close to the ball.
He has openly criticised the Wallabies' game style and then decided to sacrifice pre-season preparation with the Reds for his first boxing bout last week.
Cooper won his fight against Brisbane insurance agent Barry Dunnett, knocking his opponent out in the first round.
Given he was throwing punches just eight days before the first round of Super Rugby, there will be increased scrutiny of his performance against the Brumbies.
Former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones said boxing so close to the season was ''good for Quade, but terrible for the team''.
''It's certainly got to affect your team preparation, particularly when Will Genia is already out,'' Jones said.
''Quade's a proven champion No.10 and, with time and space, he's better than anyone in the competition … I think he can have a really good season.''
Cooper's opposite number, Brumbies flyhalf Matt Toomua, says the ACT has avoided getting caught in the Cooper hype and build-up.
The pair were schoolboy rivals in Queensland before Toomua joined the Brumbies.
''If I'm worrying about [Cooper] then I'm not worrying about what we're trying to do as a team,'' Cooper said.
''I've got more than enough stuff to focus on and achieve this week.
''In terms of trying to make it into a trial against the Wallabies fly-half - that's definitely not the case.
''For me it's about getting back on the paddock and stringing some games together.''