New Zealand v Australia, Bledisloe Cup
McKenzie backs Cooper to deliver
October 14, 2013
Ewen McKenzie has no concerns about Cooper facing his All Blacks demons © Getty Images
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie is confident Quade Cooper can put his trans-Tasman woes behind him and prove he doesn't have a problem performing on the big stage against the All Blacks. McKenzie won't announce his team for Saturday's Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand until Thursday, but says Cooper will "deliver" if selected.
The fly-half was benched for August's Bledisloe loss in Wellington, but after starring against Argentina, Cooper is set to confront his demons head-on in the starting side in Dunedin. He's also expected to take over goal-kicking duties from the injured Christian Leali'ifano.
Cooper was public enemy No.1 in New Zealand throughout the 2011 IRB World Cup and has struggled to bring his dynamic best to the table against the all-round class of the All Blacks defence. But McKenzie said Cooper had improved his game throughout this year's Rugby Championship and that his so-called nightmare run across the ditch was largely a media creation.
"I don't think he has a problem. I don't have a problem. If he's there he'll do the job," McKenzie said on Monday. "Part of what's been created is a function of the media liking to talk about that. But he just gets on with playing and that's what he's been doing."
Since he was booed relentlessly at the World Cup, Cooper started in a 22-0 Bledisloe loss in 2012 and this year, under McKenzie, he was left on the bench, with Matt Toomua wearing the No.10 jersey. McKenzie insisted the decision to hold him back in August's 27-16 defeat had nothing to do with the opposition and Cooper's miserable record against them.
Against Argentina in Rosario, Cooper took the line on and looked to play a direct style, certainly more than he had earlier in the tournament. McKenzie said Cooper was capable of executing whatever game plan is handed to him and pointed to his defensive improvement this year as proof that some criticisms of the 25-year-old are no longer accurate.
"We'll have a set of tactics we want to play and he'll deliver if he's there," McKenzie said. "Taking the line on isn't a problem, tackling (isn't a problem). All these things that people talk about when they talk about Quade (he can do). Quade's tackling at 78 per cent now ... which is a lot better than a lot of other players in both teams."
McKenzie wants no more from Cooper than he wants from his entire side - and that overwhelming message is consistency. The All Blacks are undefeated this year and the Wallabies haven't tasted success in New Zealand since 2001. McKenzie wants his team to believe they can sustain a similar level of performance.
"We need to develop the same consistency. We can't just have a win against Argentina. We have to turn that into a second win. That's our focus. We're about winning two games in a row."
Toomua is expected to replace Brumbies stablemate Leali'ifano (ankle) in the Wallabies' side. McKenzie confirmed Toomua, who started the first two Bledisloe Cup Tests at fly-half, was contending to fill the vacant spot at inside-centre. McKenzie said playing Leali'ifano could have compromised his fitness for the upcoming Spring Tour to Europe. The Wallabies will also be without backrower Scott Fardy for the dead rubber against New Zealand, after some friendly fire from team-mate James Horwill caused bleeding behind one eye.
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