Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: The straight man finding his place outside Cooper

The Wallabies' Pat McCabe says things are becoming more instinctive. Photo / Getty Images
The Wallabies' Pat McCabe says things are becoming more instinctive. Photo / Getty Images

Pat McCabe still wears test L-plates playing outside the zany backline direction of Quade Cooper.

Some would see that as a blotchy recipe for success, but Wallaby coach Robbie Deans had been searching for someone in midfield to offer contrast to Cooper.

He wanted a straight man beside the trick cyclist, a reliable abrasive midfielder with a low error rate who would balance the rest of the Wallaby elan.

Exit Matt Giteau and his frills - that was just too much circus talent together. The team needed one conductor and that was going to be Cooper; the straight man was McCabe.

He is some way from the talents Tim Horan showed in his glittering Wallaby career, but McCabe displays the necessary reliability and mental clout to give it a shake.

He has played only a handful of Super 15 and test matches in that role, but is in the World Cup squad and starts tomorrow at Suncorp Stadium against the All Blacks. McCabe has played most of his top-flight rugby at No 13, wing or fullback.

He was as stunned as anyone when Brumbies assistant Stephen Larkham - who knew a thing or two about changing positions and starring in test footy - sidled up and told him he was playing second five-eighths.

"He spoke about how dangerous the Reds backline was so he wanted them to make more tackles in the frontline. We wanted to be direct so I got a lot of carries and it worked a bit," McCabe recalled.

"Things are starting to come more instinctively but I have to get used to others and how they play."

At Eden Park he and the Wallabies were shut down by a strong All Black performance but are aiming for revenge tomorrow against the visitors in Brisbane. Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith were a strong combination in Bledisloe I, helped by the quick ball and space the Wallabies gave them in getting off their line.

"They are two great players and two massive threats that we have to worry about regardless," McCabe said. "If we rush, their footwork is too good so we have to be more connected with better numbers across the park."

McCabe loves the steep learning curve he has been through in his test education and clearly Deans admires what he sees.

Advice comes from the coach, plenty of video analysis and long chats with Cooper and Berrick Barnes. Being a frontline defender suited his psyche and now he has had to sharpen his distribution skills.

How did he get used to Cooper? McCabe was unsure anyone could get used to the lively Reds playmaker - but he said the beauty of the inside-back arrangement was that if he got into space, Cooper would find him.

"My role is either getting the gainline or holding up the defenders to give the others as much space as possible because of the danger we have further out."

- NZ Herald

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 29 Dec 2014 13:42:52 Processing Time: 190ms