Cooper the lead man in Aussie attacking cast
You know the old adage. Games are won and lost up front. The forwards decide which team comes out on top, the backs decide by how much.
But Australia, England's next opponents at Twickenham on Saturday, appear to be doing their utmost to disprove this hoary cliché.
Against Martin Johnson's tourists in June, they were battered up front in Perth and conceded two penalty tries yet still emerged victorious, would have got away with another pummelling in Sydney but for Matt Giteau's goalkicking, and performed another escape act to win in relative comfort against Wales last Saturday, despite their pack conceding seven penalties for scrummaging offences.
So how do the Wallabies fly in the face of received rugby wisdom? How can they get away with having a front row that seems to collapse at the first hint of opposition power, yet still win games?
In short, because they have a sensational set of backs which is currently better than anything else out there - including the All Blacks - at sizing up space, running or passing their way through it, and crossing the opposition line.
"Certainly when things haven't been going well [up front], our ability to still score points, still get field position and still build momentum through our attack has been important to us," noted Australia assistant coach Jim Williams, the former Wallaby number eight.
That attack has yielded 38 tries in 12 Tests to date this year, including 10 in four matches against New Zealand and 11 in three against South Africa.
(From left) Australian backline stars James O'Connor, Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale and Will Genia are all 22 or under. Picture: Getty
There is the counter-attacking verve and raw pace of the latest gem, Kurtley Beale, at full-back, the footballing nous and finishing ability of wings James O'Connor and Drew Mitchell, and the power and dash of Adam Ashley-Cooper at outside centre.
With the electric Will Genia at scrum-half, the consummate play-making skills of Matt Giteau at inside centre and open-side flanker David Pocock rapidly challenging All Black master Richie McCaw's pre-eminence at the tackle area, any turnover ball is a clear and present danger to back-pedalling opponents.
"They are probably more dangerous than the All Blacks in the attacking sense," observed England manager Martin Johnson this week. "Just when you think you have things covered off, they find a way to get round you."
Amid this stellar cast of dynamic young thrusters however, the lead role is being played by a true Aussie larrikin figure in fly-half Quade Cooper, whose pyrotechnics have won the admiration of coaches, supporters, pundits and fellow players.
"Cooper is great for the game, full stop," said Wales wing wizard Shane Williams before his meeting with the Wallabies last week. "With the ball, when he's attacking and the way he works players off him, at the moment there is no better player out there."
Cooper's unpredictable box of tricks - the jinking runs, jumps, feints, dinked kicks, sleight of hand, dashing tries - and colourful off-field antics have earned him the label of rugby's George Best.
Certainly the 22-year-old, who was born and raised in Waikato, New Zealand, but moved to Brisbane with his family at 15 and made his Wallaby debut in 2008, is a flawed genius.
His charge sheet includes being arrested for an alleged burglary, disqualification after pleading guilty to driving while on a suspended license, a reprimand for "engaging in a food fight" at the Wallabies team hotel and a A$10,000 fine for bringing the game into disrepute after a dispute with a taxi driver.
On the field, his tackling technique was described as "awkward" by BBC analyst Jonathan Davies during last Saturday's win over Wales, although he did rip the ball out of the hands of Wales lock Bradley Davies to launch the move from which the Wallabies scored their third try.
If Cooper's defence is something England will be keen to test out on Saturday, when in possession himself he is not one for giving opponents many opportunities to 'line him up'.
Quade Cooper bamboozles the Wales defence in Australia's win in Cardiff. Picture: Getty
"His footwork is so good that he very rarely gets wrapped up in the tackle," noted his opposite number in Cardiff, Stephen Jones. "You rarely see him die with the ball or go fully into contact with it. He is different to anything else out there."
Union fans should appreciate Cooper while he's around. Earlier this year he was offered a reported A$ 850,000 (#530,000) to switch to rugby league with the Parramatta Eels, but resisted the offer - at least for now - to sign a one-year deal with the Australian Rugby Union through to next year's Rugby World Cup.
If he maintains fitness, form and his current rate of progress, that tournament could propel him to superstar status.
Here, you feel, is a potential icon that could be held up alongside the likes of David Campese and Jonah Lomu, players who pushed the boundaries of the sport and transformed our perceptions of what is possible on a rugby field.
Two years ago, Cooper was an unused replacement in Australia's 28-14 win at Twickenham, having made his debut off the bench the previous week in Italy and scored a vital try.
Last year he played inside centre as the Wallabies prevailed 18-9 in south-west London.
But this season coach Robbie Deans took the bold step of giving Cooper, who starred for the Queensland Reds in this year's Super 14, a run at fly-half, with Giteau reverting to the number 12 jersey, and the move has paid off handsomely.
Cooper scooped man-of-the-match awards against England and Ireland in June, helped Australia to a first win on the South African High Veldt since 1963 in the Tri-Nations, and made the decisive break and scoring pass in the final minute which led to the Wallabies ending their 10-match losing run to the All Blacks in Hong Hong en route to Europe.
Different, dangerous and deadly when given a sniff of space, he is the fulcrum of this all singing, all dancing, Wallabies' attack, and it is far from a one-man show.
Of course this approach is not always sufficient to counteract deficiences elsewhere, and Australia can expect another, greater, examination of their forward fundamentals on Saturday, as my colleague Tom Fordyce discusses in his blog.
But it is a scary prospect for the rest that if the Wallabies sort their scrummage out and secure anything approaching 50% possession, the odds on a third Australian World Cup triumph will continue to shorten in the next 10 months.
While England hope the likes of Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Ben Youngs, Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole continue to develop in the Test arena during that time, Australia's brat pack - Beale (21, 11 caps), O'Connor (20, 25 caps), Cooper (22, 21 caps), Genia (22, 20 caps) and Pocock (22, 27 caps) - will be hardened internationals by then, with Giteau (28, 89 caps), Mitchell (26, 52 caps) and Ashley-Cooper (26, 48 caps) the old hands in the backline.
It is not something you are likely to hear publically from the England camp, but what would Martin Johnson give to have play-makers of the quality of Cooper, Giteau and the Larkhamesque Berrick Barnes - who can only make the bench these days - at his disposal?
All are players with an instinctive understanding of how to unlock an opposition defence - "We are confident we can deliver no matter what sort of ball we get," says Barnes - and espouse a philosophy that can surely only be good news for the game as a whole?
"When you enjoy yourself you are going to be entertaining, not just for the viewers but for us as a team," says Cooper. "If we play a brand of rugby that is good to watch and be a part of, hopefully it can become a winning style."