Oh cry me a river, it's another week of Quade Cooper booing stories.
I'm struggling for survival in this moral limbo. And I'm not the only one. The New Zealand rugby public is facing a crisis of conscience. Here's the arch-villain of our arch-rivals served up on a platter (or a cake tin as the case may be) but you may not, for the sake of your nation's reputation, put voice to your negative feelings. I mean, really? That's like being dropped off in Bulls and told not to make bovine puns.
Mooving right along, even Steve Hansen has sympathy for the embattled Cooper, saying on Wednesday that he doesn't boo Cooper, and he will continue to not boo Cooper, which is probably a good thing, tautology aside. Imagine Sky's cameras swinging into the All Blacks' box only to find the coaching equivalent of Statler and Waldorf reacting as if they had just sat through another failed Fozzie Bear stand-up routine. "It's like a kind of torture to have to watch the show!" Come to think of it, that would be fantastic.
And think about this, too: where would Fozzie Bear be now if it wasn't for Statler and Waldorf? The worst stand-up comedian in the history of the Muppet Show would be nowhere, that's where. His whole gag relied on being booed. It made his name. Just as it certainly made Cooper's. Here's a guy denied the chance to play lion-tamer. At least in the Wallaby circus he can still provide the tears of a clown. Big red boots and all.
While the Prime Minister could not be reached for comment (I'll check his emails later), the most powerful man in New Zealand praised Cooper as a good player and "not a bad bloke either, when you have a quiet chat to him". As the gathered press began to panic at this outpouring of magnanimity from the All Black coach, Shag gathered himself just in time to add, but "he's brought it on himself".
Whew, for a minute there ...
Still, while we're wrestling our demons and panicking about how the world must be judging us for our collective cacophony of unsportsmanlike caterwauling, Australian cricket coach Darren Lehmann has found himself in no such patriotic predicament, imploring his team's fans to make Stuart Broad cry and go home when the return Ashes series hits the lucky country in November. One thing's for sure, he won't be walking home.
I doubt Broad will cry and go home, just as I doubt Cooper really cares that he has become the target of such derision this side of the Tasman. He'll wear it like a badge of honour, and so he should. If he didn't have the ability to perform magic acts on a footy field, no one over here would care. We may not always be sporting, but hell, we're discerning.
Something tells me the Wallabies will need to be a tad more discerning in terms of their ruck work this week if they are any chance to crack the All Blacks at a stadium in which they have only met twice. (A John Eales penalty got the job done to ruin the Westpac Stadium housewarming in 2000, and the All Blacks prevailed 16-7 on a sodden capital evening in 2004.)
Three key areas must be of greatest concern to the visitors: their inability to clean house at breakdown time, where they trailed New Zealand's cleanout rate by some margin; their inability, despite some key line breaks, to play consistent gain-line rugby - they lost ground on 24 per cent of their possessions, while the All Blacks failed to make the gain line just 12 per cent of the time; and their less than ideal defensive ruck attendance - Michael Hooper was a lone wolf in this department.
If the Wallabies can turn endeavour into production and find a clinical finish for their half chances, there is no reason they can't repeat the Eales-led heroics. And can you imagine the boos then?
Udderly ridiculous. Wocka, wocka, wocka!
Now someone get me out of Bulls.
ITM Cup at large
The biggest news of first-round ITM Cup action was supposed to be the return to action of a, er, slimmed down Rupeni Caucau for Northland but with injury forcing his withdrawal, it was another big winger, Wellington's Afa Fa'atau, who supplied the impact out wide against Counties Manukau. Asked after the game what it was like to mark the 120kg behemoth, one Steeler quipped: "Well, if that was Afa Fa'atau, I'd hate to play against a whole one."
Attack of the clones
The Cantabrians began this season as they finished the last one, winning with the sort of ruthless efficiency that makes you wonder whether they are actually coached by Razor Robertson or in fact programmed by Samsung. And they did it with half their starting team sitting in the stands. If Canterbury keeps breeding playing stocks like this, in 10 years' time it will be no surprise to discover they are all running about with a single helix.
Still no home for Ma'a Nonu but plenty of divided opinion over his value as a Super rugby player. Perhaps this might sway the fence-sitters: of the 50 midfielders on show in this year's competition, Nonu ranked third in defenders beaten and turnovers won per game, fifth in tackles made per game (with the best tackle percentage of the Highlanders' midfield stocks), and seventh in carries and offloads per game. And he did a fair bit of that while suffering through a knee injury.