Rugby: Quade Cooper - It's not about me against the All Blacks

By Patrick McKendry in Wellington

Quade Cooper during last year's match between the All Blacks and the Wallabies. Photo / Getty
Quade Cooper during last year's match between the All Blacks and the Wallabies. Photo / Getty

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has put his faith in the mercurial talents of playmaker Quade Cooper as he attempts to prevent his team's sixth consecutive test defeat and yet another Bledisloe Cup loss.

Cheika's selection of Cooper is little surprise given the injuries of Matt Giteau and Rob Horne during the 42-8 shellacking in Sydney last weekend, although the Tokoroa-born player's selection at No10 inside Bernard Foley, rather than at second-five, might raise eyebrows in New Zealand.

The 28-year-old Cooper, who will play his first test for Australia since the World Cup pool game against Uruguay, has often struggled in New Zealand and will undoubtedly be targeted by the All Blacks.

"It's not about me against the All Blacks, it's the Wallabies against the All Blacks, Australia against New Zealand, so I'm not getting drawn into anything personal," said Cooper. "I'm not coming over here thinking I need to do anything special to beat the All Blacks.

We need to do something as a team. We owe it to ourselves and the people back home.

"I've had time to reflect on what's important and I've been training very hard. I can't say I'm going to be more consistent or anything like that, but I can say that every time I pull the jumper on I give it everything I've got."

Cooper has been treated mercilessly by New Zealand crowds in the past for perceived wrongdoings against former skipper Richie McCaw, and even All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who predicted a start for Cooper, called him a "maligned"player.

"Quade's a good player," Hansen said. "He gets maligned a bit over here because of a few incidents with Richie and we're not too forgiving of people who pick on Rich - I'm talking about fans - but within the team he's well respected. He's a good player, so he'll enhance them I think."

Cheika said Cooper, who now plays for French club Toulon, deserved his chance.

"Since he's been back he's been proactive in putting himself out there ... looking to better himself as a player," Cheika said. "Mate, I like him, I back him, I think he's a good person and a very, very good rugby player. Here's an opportunity to show that to as many people who are watching."

Cooper's in-form opposite Beauden Barrett said: "We know what he brings - X-factor - he's one to keep any eye on."

Asked if he hoped the Wellington crowd would treat Cooper with respect, he said: "I hope so. He's a good bloke and he deserves to be treated like anyone else. I know as a team we respect him."

Hansen is predicting Cooper and Foley to lead a two-pronged kicking attack at Westpac Stadium which is one of the reasons for the selection of Ben Smith at fullback.

The Wallabies were beaten all over the park last week, but they were hurt in particular by their inability to gain any territory and put the All Blacks under any sort of pressure. Instead of playing on the front foot, they were reduced to flinging passes behind the advantage line, presenting easy targets for a fired-up defence.

Smith's move to the back means Israel Dagg will start on the wing for only the third time in 53 tests.

"Both of them are world class fullbacks and we think Ben is certainly a world class winger," Hansen said. "We think we need to see if Izzie can start a test there and do a job for us because it opens up further down the track other selection possibilities. The way we play all our back three are fullbacks anyway, it's like playing three fullbacks.

"It may well also allow Ben to come into the game a wee bit more if Australia are going to kick which I think they probably will do a bit more."

Other changes for Australia see Samu Kerevi starting at centre and a return for loose forward Scott Fardy as Cheika searches for a first test win since their World Cup semifinal victory over Argentina.

Wallabies team to face the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday night:

Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Samu Kerevi, Bernard Foley, Dane Haylett-Petty, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, Adam Coleman, Kane Douglas, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (capt), Scott Sio.

Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Allan Ala'alatoa, Dean Mumm, Will Skelton, Tevita Kuridrani, Reece Hodge, Nick Phipps.

- NZ Herald

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