New Zealand's public enemy No1 Quade Cooper has revealed how close he could have been to playing for the All Blacks against the Wallabies in Sunday's rugby World Cup semi-final.
In a dramatic twist, Cooper yesterday admitted he gave serious thought to returning home to play Super Rugby in New Zealand after struggling in his first two seasons with the Queensland Reds.
The New Zealand Rugby Union approached the mercurial flyhalf when he was coming off contract with the cellar-dwelling Reds as a talented yet flighty 20-year-old.
Queensland officials fought hard to keep Cooper, due to his great potential, but the Wallabies playmaker said the decision solely came down to his family.
They had moved across the Tasman to live with the homesick youngster, and while he was unable to quickly find his feet in senior rugby, he felt he owed it to his mother, step-father, sister and two brothers to stay in Brisbane.
''There was a time in my career I had to decide whether I wanted to come back to this side of the Tasman,'' he said.
''I don't think I was close to playing for the All Blacks [at the time] - it was a matter of where I wanted to play my rugby.
''It was a very tough decision to move away from your family again ... so I decided it was the best fit for me to continue my career in Australia.''
If he had chosen differently, Cooper would likely be suiting up in a black jersey to play Australia at Eden Park.
His rapid development over the past two years and New Zealand's inability to find a proven back-up for injured superstar Dan Carter would have had him at the top of the country's No10 queue - which has led to the All Blacks calling in passed-over duo Aaron Cruden and Stephen Donald.
While he has been widely despised in the country of his birth during this tournament, Cooper has also won over many Kiwis with his humility and composed off-field persona.
He publicly thanked New Zealanders for their support following his ragged quarter-final display against South Africa, and said he was touched by messages from his home town of Tokoroa, as well as Kaikohe where his 77-year-old grandmother lives.
''She sends me a lot of text messages that all her friends from the local bowls club are right behind me, so that gives you a very heartwarming boost of confidence,'' Cooper said.
The old bowlers wouldn't like hearing the latest barb against young Quade with Wallabies great David Campese bagging him for being too selfish and not playing more for the team.
''Coming from a guy like that, I think I'll take advice from teammates and the coaches that I have around me other than outside influences,'' Cooper shrugged.
Unlike the enigmatic winger, Campese's 1991 World Cup-winning teammate, Michael Lynagh, has been extremely impressed by the current Queensland and Australian No10 despite his forgettable quarter-final display against the Springboks.
''His other 14 teammates better give him some more ball to work with. If you put him in a Springbok jumper it would have been a different story,'' Lynagh said.
''But I've been very impressed with how he's behaved, not just on the pitch but with all the stuff that's going on off the pitch.''