Wallabies linchpin Quade Cooper has been warned to wipe his ongoing contract saga from his mind or risk the Australian side's chances against South Africa in Sunday's (NZT) Tri-Nations rugby test.
As the drawnout negotiations over the star five-eighth's future continued at the Wallabies' Cape Town base, coach Robbie Deans said he could only hope they would not be a distraction for Cooper at Loftus Versfeld.
Cooper remained silent on the issue after the side's arrival in South Africa but has a history of playing well through off-field distractions, producing a stellar Super 14 season during contract talks with Queensland and with a conviction for burglary hanging over his head.
"If any of the peripheral stuff is in the forefront of his mind then it will bite him and, subsequent to that, it will bite the team so hopefully that's not the case," Deans said.
"I guess being here is advantageous to that end, there's less profile, less interest."
The gifted 22-year-old playmaker, who is off-contract next year, is yet to decide between a beefed-up offer from the Australian Rugby Union and a deal worth at least $A500,000 ($NZ629,550) a year from NRL club Parramatta.
"We obviously communicate routinely but, no, there's no update," Deans said of his talks with Cooper.
Cooper will return to the Australian side in the No 10 jersey this weekend after serving a two-match suspension for a dangerous tackle in the Wallabies' impressive 30-13 victory over the Springboks in Brisbane last month.
Anthony Faingaa is expected to be the man to make way for Cooper's return, with Matt Giteau returning to second five-eighth in an otherwise unchanged side from the 10-20 Bledisloe Cup test loss to the All Blacks in Christchurch.
Deans said Cooper could expect to be targeted by the South Africans, who are winless so far in the Tri-Nations following the weekend's heartbreaking 29-22 loss to new champions New Zealand.
"He hasn't been in rugby for a few weeks and to go from nothing into a Tri-Nations fixture where there's a lot at stake and a lot of intensity ... they won't make his life easy," Deans said.
"They've got the background of Brisbane, they will have taken out of that some ideas on how best to make his life difficult and I've got no doubt they'll bring that to the game this weekend."
Giteau said he was keen to have Cooper back alongside him, saying his game had matured.
"Quade's always been very flashy and always done the flashy things well but he probably wouldn't have been as consistent as he is now," Giteau said.
"I think he's really mature now, (with) his kicking game he can control a game really well and he does those small things that people probably don't notice as much.
"And he still obviously has that flash of brilliance.
"I enjoy playing outside him and, especially that night (in Brisbane), he creates a lot of space so hopefully it will be more of the same."