Rugby World Cup 2011
Wallabies spring to Cooper's defence
ESPNscrum Staff
October 16, 2011
Australia's James O'Connor consoles a dejected Quade Cooper, New Zealand v Australia, Rugby World Cup semi-final, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand, October 16, 2011
James O'Connor consoles a dejected Quade Cooper © Getty Images

Australia have rallied around crestfallen fly-half Quade Cooper after All Blacks coach Graham Henry said the playmaker had "lost a bit of respect" and only had himself to blame for being labelled as "public enemy No. 1" in New Zealand.

Kiwi-born Cooper had a torrid night at Eden Park as the All Blacks swatted aside the challenge of the Wallabies to power into the final of the World Cup for the first time since 1995. Australia's No. 10 never truly recovered from starting the game by kicking out on the full and his disappointing display was summed up when he was shoved into touch in the final play, which confirmed New Zealand's victory.

Prior to the last-four showdown, Cooper was singled out by the New Zealand media for his previous altercation with Richie McCaw in the Tri-Nations. The 23-year-old escaped sanction for allegedly kneeing the All Blacks skipper in the head during the Brisbane clash in August, propelling him into the spotlight and making him unpopular with many Kiwis.

Following New Zealand's victory, Henry poured salt into Cooper's wounds by saying the out of favour fly-half was the architect of his own downfall and culpable for his negative relationship with the Kiwi press.

"I think Quade has brought a wee bit of that on himself," Henry said in his post-match press conference. "He's got a wee bit of mileage to make up and he probably made up a bit tonight.

"I think you have to earn that respect. He's lost a bit of respect with some of his actions in the previous Test matches. That's natural. But He tried very hard tonight, he kept his nose clean which was nice, and he's gained some respect.

"You have to earn respect; you can't just expect respect."

Henry's counterpart Robbie Deans leapt to Cooper's defence, the Australia coach insisting his long-time rival was merely aiming a cheap shot. Deans said: "It's an easy thing to do, I guess, after the fact. He didn't mention it prior to it. You've only got to look at all of his [Cooper's] dialogue; he's very respectful. He's not the only bloke who has committed an offence, so to speak. None of it was against the laws of the game.

"It's just perception and it's easy that the public like someone to hate, I guess, especially someone they see as a potential threat."

Flanker Rocky Elsom insisted Australia would not trade Cooper for anybody else, saying: "I know that the team really values having Quade around and, sure people want to get into him to unsettle him, but we wouldn't have anyone else. Whatever way it worked out, we were 100 per cent behind him and were happy he was our No. 10."

Australia captain James Horwill, who also leads Cooper at the Queensland Reds, admitted the bad blood towards his team-mate had left a bad taste in the mouth. He said: "You never like to see one person singled out in a team-orientated sport, and rugby's the ultimate team game. But it's just the way that people targeted him from an outside looking in.

"Quade's been an integral part of our side and hopefully he will continue to be an integral member of our side. He's a guy that's special talent in football; he's such a rare talent that you always want to see guys like that go well.

"People say things about Quade but I've never seen a person that gets asked for their autograph more, spends more time with kids, with people around the community. Anyone that asks him for anything, he pretty much says yes. A guy of his stature in the game and the status that he has with a lot of people, he could quite easily say no. He's the first one to say yes and he'll spend extra time with kids at all types of things, so that side of him you can't fault him in any way."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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