Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Cooper to spark desperate Wallabies

Quade Cooper. Photo / Getty Images
Quade Cooper. Photo / Getty Images

A week ago, Quade Cooper was not ready for test rugby. Now the five-eighths has been picked to revive the Wallaby fortunes and breathe some life into their fading Bledisloe Cup hopes.

His last venture to New Zealand ended in multiple misery, taunted by the crowds for misdemeanours and then rupturing knee ligaments in the third and fourth playoff test.

Now the Tokoroa-born Cooper will head to the same Eden Park venue tomorrow after coach Robbie Deans rejigged his side for their sudden-death transtasman bragging rights.

Cooper was not in any mood to chat yesterday after the Wallabies completed another injury-affected final training run in Sydney.

Talk about alienating any support base either side of the Ditch.

"All I want to say is, I'm back. I'm fit, healthy - I'm ready to go. And I'll see everybody at Eden Park," Cooper said before he turned and walked away.

The Wallaby troubles did not finish there with hooker Tatafu Polota Nau withdrawing from the starting combination after a bruised backside meant he struggled through the side's final training run.

No 8 Scott Higginbotham is also hampered by some sort of niggle and the Wallabies will not announce their reserves bench until today's run is over.

Stephen Moore will start instead of Polota Nau and will equal the Wallabies record as their most capped hooker with 72 caps.

'It's not ideal but it's a mature decision that Tatafu has made," said Deans. "We are in the fortunate position of having good depth at hooker and the fact that we are bringing in a player who is about to become Australia's leading hooker in terms of test appearances, highlights that."

The other focus is on the backline where Deans has made some drastic changes.

He has ditched fullback Kurtley Beale and midfield back Anthony Faingaa after their part in the 27-19 loss to the All Blacks last week in Sydney.

Beale, who was lauded pre-match by former Wallaby great Mark Ella, had a shocker while Faingaa was out of whack in midfield.

So despite Cooper's inability to make the bench last week, he has been restored for tomorrow's duel amid the hostility of Eden Park.

That selection will appease some of the calls from Wallaby greats like Tim Horan for Cooper's inclusion but provoke further inspection on why he was overlooked last week.

Starting Cooper with all the pressure of tomorrow's away test instead of boosting his spirits among the throb of home support last week is a puzzling choice.

The All Blacks have stayed with their first test group except for injured loosehead prop Tony Woodcock who has been replaced by Wyatt Crockett.

Coach Steve Hansen said it was important to use the opening test as a springboard to improve his side's performance. "We are expecting that Australia will take a step up in their intensity after last weekend's loss and we will have to be ready for that challenge," he said.

For all those predicting an easy All Black victory, Hansen pointed to the last World Cup and the All Blacks results against France. They had beaten them convincingly 37-17 in pool play but only scraped past them 8-7 when they clashed in the final.

- NZ Herald

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