Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks v Wallabies: Kiwi duo has the resolve to take it

Piri Weepu. Photo / Getty Images
Piri Weepu. Photo / Getty Images

On a straight assessment of talent, Will Genia and Quade Cooper have the edge over Piri Weepu and Aaron Cruden for the Rugby World Cup semifinal.

Genia is that bit quicker and more agile than Weepu; that little bit more able to find holes and rocket through them, while Cooper is an incredible box of tricks - the new Carlos Spencer.

Ask any neutral which inside pairing they would rather have in their team and most would go with the Australian partnership. But tonight's semifinal will not be solely about talent.

The thing about knockout football is it provides a massive test of character. It's all very well having the talent - but can Genia and Cooper deliver in what will be the biggest game of their careers?

Cooper certainly can't be trusted to bring his A-game to the party. He hasn't managed to front for a big game for some time now.

He was magical in the Super 15 final and then again a couple of weeks later against South Africa's dirt-trackers.

But he was scared witless by a rampant All Blacks side at Eden Park in early August. The Irish terrified him too at the same ground in their Pool C clash, and he was little more than a spectator against the Springboks last weekend.

There is style to Cooper but little substance. His frailties can't be hidden in the big arena.

Chase him down, don't let him have any space and his temperament starts to waver. He loses interest, doesn't seem to have the heart for the battle or that deep well to dip into and find the resolve to stay in the game.

Genia has considerable mental fortitude but his ability to play can be hampered by carrying his No10.

For Genia to be at his best, he needs Cooper to be at his. Genia was brilliant in the Super Rugby final; so too was Cooper.

Since Cooper lost his way, Genia has been merely outstanding and if there is a glimmer of hope today, it is provided by the mental hardness of both Weepu and Cruden.

Adversity has shaped these two and what they may concede to their Wallaby counterparts in natural ability they make up for in resilience and strength of character.

Weepu has felt the vagaries of professional rugby more heavily than most.

Whenever he's bedded down as the All Black starting halfback, something has always taken it away.

Last year it was a broken leg just as he was finally looking like the player he'd been threatening to be.

At other times he's been his own worst enemy - guilty of letting his standards slip when it came to diet and conditioning.

His toughest challenge of all was dealing with being dropped from the 2007 World Cup squad.

Weepu was one of the chosen ones - put in the special "reconditioning group" and then the only player of the 22 not then retained for World Cup duty.

It was a monumental blow to his self-esteem and self-confidence and one that left him with a choice - he could stay and fight or head offshore and become rich.

He stayed and has never had it easy in the last four years, always battling for recognition. If there is one thing to be certain of it is that Weepu has the mental strength to shine tonight.

He won't be thrown or overwhelmed by the occasion - he's faced much tougher challenges just making it this far.

Cruden, despite being just 22, has already endured plenty. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer when he was 19 and fought back to captain the New Zealand under-20s to world championship glory before going on to make his test debut last year.

He famously had a horrid game in his first start - against Australia in Sydney - and had to deal with excessive negative fallout as a result.

He was dropped for the end of year tour and then dropped by the Hurricanes at the start of this year's Super Rugby campaign.

It was only when he returned to Manawatu a few months ago that he was able to again produce the all-round composure and form that won him his original call-up.

Asked by the All Black coaches at the end of last year to improve basic parts of his game such as the length and accuracy of his kicking, Cruden has responded well.

It took a player of some resolve to be able to play as well as he did in last week's quarter-final - called off the bench as he was after 30 minutes having not played a competitive game for five weeks.

Cruden was fearless, throwing himself into contact and hammering it to the line. Unlike Cooper, Cruden won't go missing.

Genia and Cooper have the talent but New Zealanders can rest assured their inside pairing has the resolve.

Adversity has shaped them, made them capable of dealing with the pressure they will face tonight.

- Herald on Sunday

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 26 Jul 2014 04:16:09 Processing Time: 1120ms