Ireland v Australia
Cooper keen to be Wallabies sharpshooter
November 16, 2013
The spring is back in the step and he's delving deep into that bag of party tricks, but the heat is on Quade Cooper to prove he can handle the pressure as Wallabies' goalkicker.
Australia faces Ireland in an intriguing Test of character at a sold-out Aviva Stadium on Saturday night where the difference could well boil down to whether Cooper kicks straight. The prospect of drizzling rain adds an extra dimension to what is expected to be a tightly fought battle against the world No.6-ranked team in front of a capacity 53,000-strong Dublin crowd.
Both sides are positively talking up their desire to play with attacking adventure under their new coaches. But former Ireland and Lions captain Donal Lenihan believes the Wallabies are at a disadvantage with Cooper, an inexperienced Test kicker, in competition with Jonny Sexton.
Since replacing benched radar-boot Christian Leali'ifano, Cooper has slotted a creditable 13 from 17 but was shaky under pressure missing two crucial second-half penalties in the 20-13 loss to England.
"In these vital, tight games you need someone who can kick your goals," Lenihan said. "There's times when you can see heads dropping a bit, Cooper certainly himself, when he misses the kicks. You can see it (pressure) does have an affect on him. I think he'd be a better player if didn't have that responsibility. But to be fair to him he is playing well."
Cooper, finally showing the exciting form which he carried into the ill-fated 2011 World Cup campaign, denied he was rattled by the pressure of the job and wanted the extra responsibility. "I love having the opportunity to do it and continue to work at it," the enigmatic five-eighth said.
After running in 18 tries for the past four Tests, including 14 against Italy and Argentina, Cooper felt Australia's new backline combinations had gelled well and liked their potential.
"The bounce of the ball is going our way, the line breaks we're making we're starting to finish which is great," he said. "We have some freak players right across the board. Izzy (Folau), Tevita (Kuridrani) - we've got some big backs, which in past years we haven't had."
Rookie centre Kuridrani faces a big challenge opposing 134-Test veteran Brian O'Driscoll who declared Ireland would also throw caution to the wind with their new attacking game under Kiwi coach Joe Schmidt.
"We're not here to play a boring kicking game," O'Driscoll said. "We want to be able to play when it's on. It's about playing heads-up rugby."
Beaten 15-6 in the two sides' last meeting at the World Cup, the Wallabies have focused on winning the breakdown battle and being smarter with their ball-running so they don't get caught high in Irish "choke-tackles".
Ireland have 11 starting survivors from that Eden Park upset after recalling big guns Paul O'Connell, Sean O'Brien, playmaker Sexton and Cian Healy while Australia only have four in Cooper, Will Genia, Adam Ashley-Cooper and James Horwill.
"It's a massive game for Australia," said Lenihan. "After the England game, they can't afford another loss on tour."