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Jan 8 (Reuters) - Sparring for his professional boxing debut has given controversial Australia flyhalf Quade Cooper a confidence boost ahead of the upcoming Super Rugby season, Queensland Reds coach Ewan McKenzie said on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old New Zealand-born back steps into the ring on Feb. 8 on the undercard of close friend and World Cup winning All Black Sonny Bill Williams' bout with Francois Botha.
The bout was agreed upon weeks before Cooper eventually signed a new contract with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) to continue with the Wallabies and Reds after a year of well-publicised spats with the governing body.
Cooper was a shadow of his creative self last year, producing a number of below par performances after recovering from a serious knee injury.
His frustrations boiled over when he described the Wallabies camp as a "toxic environment" that he felt was "destroying" him.
But McKenzie, who with Cooper helped secure the Reds the 2011 Super Rugby title, said that rather than the boxing hindering his rugby, he has seen positives from the diversity.
"If you are going to put yourself out there in front of a big TV audience and a crowd one-on-one ... you can't help think he is getting some benefit from a confidence point of view," McKenzie told reporters on Tuesday.
"He's been getting his boxing done around normal training. The quality of his rugby training has been outstanding, he seems in a very good space.
"He is highly motivated and very switched on. He is adding a lot not just in terms of the team but also a lot of mentoring around some of the younger guys."
McKenzie said that Reds and Wallabies captain James Horwill was also on track to play in the season opener against the Brumbies on Feb. 16 as he continues to recover from hamstring issues.
The lock has been missing since May with the problem and may not play in preseason matches as to avoid any setbacks.
"He (Horwill) is on track, we haven't rushed him. It's been methodical and very positive," he said of his captain's progress.
"We haven't picked trial teams yet. We have to give opportunities for guys around the edges so we will manage that.
"And we know we have a tough start to the season with the Brumbies. We will have a look at it."
However, Mckenzie was unsure how much longer Will Genia will be out for.
The talented Wallabies scrumhalf underwent knee reconstruction surgery last year and McKenzie said the player was ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation.
"I don't have a fixed date but he has tracked very well," McKenzie said.
"His rehab has been perfect. We just have to make sure we don't have any setbacks, he will be right when he is right. But he has been good, possibly ahead of schedule." (Reporting by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by Peter Rutherford)