Is this the end for Quade Cooper?

ARE Quade Cooper's best years as a rugby player behind him?

On the face of it, the question appears perverse. He is only 25 and his attacking talent has been plain to see for the Queensland Reds this season.

But the other side of the coin is this: When was the last time he stood up and played a leading role in a big match?

He went missing on Saturday night against the Crusaders, of that there is little doubt.

Director of coaching Ewen McKenzie backed him afterwards, saying he was happy with Cooper's performance, and the new Wallabies coach will more than likely include the playmaker in his squad for the Rugby Championship which starts next month.

But if ever McKenzie had needed a bit of razzle dazzle from Cooper, this was the time - his last as coach of the Reds.

Amid the pantomime booing of the AMI Stadium crowd in Christchurch, however, the fly-half appeared to get stage fright. He hardly ran the ball and his default options were either kick or pass. He wasn't so much a villain, as invisible.

It was a disappointing performance because Cooper has played well this season for the Reds. He engineered his team's victory over the defending champion Chiefs in Hamilton in April, showing his full repertoire of tricks but backing it up with a bit of steel too.

After that match, McKenzie said, "I've got a lot of time for Quade as a footballer".

Whether he still feels that way is something we are about to find out.

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