Dave Rennie extraordinary Quade Cooper call outdoes even Michael Cheika

Sonny Bill Williams had called for it, Will Genia too. But Quade Cooper's return to the Wallabies No. 10 jersey still always seemed to be a long shot - until Dave Rennie rolled the dice in one of the biggest gambles of recent Australian sporting history.

Rennie's decision to hand Cooper his first Test since 2017, in Sunday night's Rugby Championship showdown with South Africa, is an extraordinary move from a coach who is staring down a fourth straight Test defeat.

After a succession of poor performances against the All Blacks, Rennie is right to spell Noah Lolesio in what is just his second season of international rugby.

But to replace him with Cooper? Particularly when Reece Hodge is available, had looked assured off the bench in a 20-minute cameo in Perth last week, and had also done a fine job in the 10 shirt in the 22-18 victory over the All Blacks in Brisbane last year?

Cooper's promotion screams of absolute panic.

But New Zealand-born Cooper hasn't played a proper game of rugby since his season with Kintetsu Liners came to an end at the hands of Suntory Sungoliath in a 54-7 thrashing on Apr. 21.

Such is the way in which Cooper plays, so too that he is more than just a few weeks off a run, that the decision of Rennie and his fellow selectors is similar to the one Michael Cheika made when the former Wallabies coach threw Cooper into No. 10 for the second Bledisloe Cup clash of 2015.

But back then Cooper was still playing top level rugby with the Reds and Toulon. He was also just 27, as opposed to 33.

Having defeated New Zealand 27-19 with Bernard Foley steering the ship, the Wallabies were then thumped 47-13 at Eden Park with Cooper at the helm a week later. The Queenslander, like many other Wallabies that night, endured a tough evening when he was yellow-carded just after halftime, before being replaced on 57 minutes.

Given what had played out first in Sydney and then in Auckland, Cheika was crucified for his decision.

Rennie will be acutely aware he is at risk of a similar fate.

It's true, South Africa do not hold the same scars as the All Blacks do for Cooper, while he has actually won nine of his 14 matches against the Springboks. But the world champions will surely be licking their lips given Cooper's lack of playing time; their back-row of Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert and Duane Vermeulen will be gunning for him all night.

While Cooper may not be match fit, he has kept himself in incredible shape even before he joined Rennie's squad as injury cover under the Giteau Law. He is a stickler for the carnivore diet and regularly details his workouts on Instagram.

He has a rig any 33-year-old would kill for.

But this is international rugby, against the world's No. 1 ranked side, not an afternoon at the park throwing miracle flick passes with an American football.

Rennie's decision to bring Cooper into the wider Wallabies squad back in July was full of merit such was the lack of experience in the Australia squad; Lolesio spoke shortly after about how Cooper was helping him, while the coach himself was also full or praise for the mentoring role the 70-Test playmaker was filling.

Then, last week, Rennie threw Cooper up for Tuesday media ahead of Bledisloe III. It turned out to be the ultimate dummy, despite Rennie on Friday confirming the Queenslander hadn't completely been out of the selection mix.

"He was certainly close to selection, we looked at the fact that he's contributing really well, he's training well," Rennie explained. "And we were keen to bring Samu [Kerevi] in, but we thought a couple of changes in the inside backs, for both guys who hadn't had a lot of time in the environment, we thought that was too much.

"And we wanted to back Noah, he's played a lot of footy for us; so there was a lot of discussion around that position because of the experience that Quade can bring."

But experience has got the nod at No. 10 this week, with Cooper to pair his dancing feet with those of in-form scrum-half Tate McDermott on the Gold Coast.

Sunday's Test is suddenly blockbuster television as a result; Australian broadcasters Nine Gem and Stan Sport will be frothing with delight at Rennie's decision. Cooper has a public profile no other Wallaby shares, even skipper Michael Hooper.

But the selection stands to be one of the lasting memories of the Kiwi's tenure, just as it was with Cheika's call in 2015.

Coaches live and die by their selections, but few will be as closely followed or as long remembered as this one by Rennie come Sunday night.

SBW spoke of his clear "bias" - he and Cooper have been friends for years -- in calling for the fly-half's return in the post-match Bledisloe show on Stan Sport last Sunday. Genia, too, has for so long been in his mate's corner; the scrum-half so often just a few metres inside, first at the Reds, then the Wallabies, Rebels and most recently in Japan.

Sunday will determine whether friendship has got the better of both Test greats' analysis, or that they have indeed seen something that so many out there believe was finished in the Test arena even long before Cooper's last Test outing in 2017.

But it also always felt like Cooper's rugby story had one final Wallabies chapter to write. Just when it looked like that might be confined to a citizenship dispute or simply as a mentor on the training paddock, just like any good thriller, there is now a late twist.

And people simply won't be able to look away, least of all Dave Rennie.