All Blacks: A judicial boost for ABs

By Wynne Gray

Quade Cooper. Photo / Getty Images
Quade Cooper. Photo / Getty Images

The All Blacks got two major Tri-Nations boosts without setting a foot on the field last night, with key opposition players ruled out by the judiciary from facing Graham Henry's men in the next month.

Wallaby playmaker Quade Cooper was suspended from the next two tests against the All Blacks in Melbourne and Christchurch, and Springbok centre Jaque Fourie was banned for four weeks, scratching him from facing the All Blacks on August 21 in Johannesburg.

The Bledisloe Cup roadshow hits Melbourne this week, another rugby promotion looking to stake a claim in the southern city as the unbeaten All Blacks and Wallabies start the first of their four duels this winter.

Promotional propaganda for the match got a boost on Saturday when the Wallabies dealt to the Springboks 30-13 as they opened their Tri-Nations programme in Brisbane under the clinical inspection of the All Black coaching panel.

The Wallabies were being priced favourably to claim their third straight win against the All Blacks in Melbourne, following wins in 1998 and 2007.

But that marketing boost was balanced by the ruling of the judiciary over Cooper.

Cooper was suspended for spear-tackling his opposite Morne Steyn, a ban which seemed excessive but matched the penalty given Bok wing Jean de Villiers for a similar act in Wellington.

Questions will rise about how appropriate it was for New Zealander Bruce Squire, QC, to chair the judicial panel when the match referees have to be neutral.

Springbok centre Fourie was suspended for a dangerous tackle during Saturday's match. He was the third South African player in three weeks to be suspended, adding woe to a miserable three-game trip for South Africa, who previously lost twice in New Zealand.

Cooper's absence will hurt the Wallabies. He resembled Mandrake the Magician with some of his sleight-of-hand trickery on Saturday and his absence will stunt some of the Wallaby enterprise and give coach Robbie Deans intriguing selection dilemmas about using either Berrick Barnes or Matt Giteau as his playmaker.

The Wallabies showed how they were going to imitate the All Blacks' style by running or kicking for space instead of the sideline, backing their fitness and skills to wring the stuffing out of the Boks.

The All Black coaches, watching from the stands on Saturday, might have pinched themselves as the pressure piled up on Peter de Villiers and his side when Fourie was sinbinned for a tip tackle inside two minutes. His exit was even quicker than Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw in New Zealand as rugby's recidivists got into their work.

Later BJ Botha was binned for a professional foul before Cooper infringed and was sent to the naughty chair and the whims of the judiciary.

Back in 2003 at the World Cup, the All Blacks were regular fixtures at Etihad Stadium although the Melbourne media struggled to give much rugby in that tournament headline space ahead of their favoured AFL.

Those issues will not concern the transtasman rivals as they look for the first scalp ahead of their return clash in Christchurch. The All Blacks could reinstate Joe Rokocoko on the left wing after his recovery from a hamstring strain although Israel Dagg might be considered.

The Wallabies appeared to have escaped Brisbane without any injuries. Victory pushed coach Robbie Deans' record to 19 wins from 33 tests in charge of the Wallabies and brought a slight easing of the pressure being exerted for results.

However the suspension of Cooper and the breaking of the partnership between him and livewire halfback Will Genia will bring the frowns back to the face of ARU chief executive John O'Neill as the Tri-Nations roadshow hits Melbourne.

However forwards like captain Rocky Elsom, Saia Faingaa, David Pocock and the renewed vigour of Giteau, Drew Mitchell, James O'Connor and centre Rob Horne showed a different side of the Wallabies.

The familiar problems will be their concern: the creaky scrum, strength in the air and players switching off in their defensive roles. They were helped by a lack of scrums while their lineout was strong as they claimed a try which began with Elsom's steal just before halftime.

Several times Deans bashed the window in the coaches' box in frustration. But five minutes from time when Genia scored, he knuckled the glass to show his relief.

That emotion has not been seen from Deans and the Wallabies against the All Blacks since 2008 when they beat a side without injured skipper Richie McCaw 34-19 in Sydney. Since then, they have lost their last seven tests either side of the Tasman, in Hong Kong and Japan.

* Scrum halfback Piri Weepu will be available for Saturday's test after the timely delivery of his first child. Weepu would possibly have missed the match - New Zealand's third and Australia's second in this year's tournament - if the birth had been delayed.

- NZ Herald

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