All Blacks: McCaw not targeting Cooper (much)

By Michael Brown

Richie McCaw and Quade Cooper are set to renew their rivalry tonight at Eden Park. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Richie McCaw and Quade Cooper are set to renew their rivalry tonight at Eden Park. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Richie McCaw's chuckle in response to a question about Australia first five-eighths Quade Cooper was more illuminating than his answer and only highlighted why Cooper is such a divisive figure.

The All Blacks captain was quizzed about whether one of their main objectives was to ensure Cooper didn't settle in the match and the very mention of Cooper caused McCaw to let out a small snigger.

McCaw took a dim view of Cooper's antics last season when Cooper kneed him in the head off the ball and the Tokoroa-born pivot has ben the main talking point this week after his recall to the Australia team for tomorrow's Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park. Cooper didn't help himself when he made an eight-second statement to the media earlier this week, although the length of it was something McCaw joked was appealing.

"I think we have to make life difficult for all their backs," McCaw said, quickly getting back into his stride. "Denying quality front-foot ball is the key.

He's certainly got the ability if he gets the space and time he can cut everyone up. We have to make sure we deny him that and, hopefully, he doesn't have a very good day."

The All Blacks have their own headline machine in Sonny Bill Williams, who will play his last test before his move to Japan and switch back to rugby league. McCaw wouldn't be surprised to see Williams return to rugby after his next flirtation with league - little surprises with Williams - but was disappointed to be losing one of their biggest strike weapons.

"It's a bit of a shame because he's just showing how much of a force on the international stage he is in rugby. From our perspective, it was just great to have him last week and this week. He's always said you never know what is around the corner for him so he may well be back."

Cooper and Williams are, of course, merely sideshows to the main attraction and the All Blacks go into tomorrow night's test as overwhelming favourites. They were poor in last week's first test but still won comfortably 27-19 and their own high standards demand a better performance.

Those exacting standards on top of New Zealand's history at Eden Park - they are unbeaten in 29 tests there since 1994 and haven't been beaten by the Wallabies at the ground in 26 years - have seen the All Blacks instilled as $1.10 favourites with the TAB.

McCaw, however, has been around long enough not to assume anything and said the pressure Australia has come under this week will only make their task more difficult.

"That's what happens in sport," he said. "That's why it can swing from one week to the next. One team can be desperate and, if we're not the same, it can swing pretty quickly. That's been our challenge this week.

"You put the scoreboard [from last week's game] aside and look at how we performed. We realise they will be up for it but there's a bunch of guys here who will hopefully do the same. We saw as recently as June [against Ireland] we had a good week one week and the second week was a total different ball game. We have to make sure it's not like that again. What it does do is make you realise they will be ready and we have to make sure we are, too."

McCaw will undoubtedly be ready for Cooper.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith.

Wallabies: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Rob Horne, Berrick Barnes, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Will Genia (c), Scott Higginbotham, Michael Hooper, Dave Dennis, Nathan Sharpe, Sitaleki Timani, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Saia Fainga'a, James Slipper, Radike Samo, Liam Gill, Nick Phipps, Anthony Fainga'a, Kurtley Beale.

- APNZ

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