Wallabies look to most hated man in NZ

Cooper, who was born a Kiwi, can take Australia to final. By Chris Hewett
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The Independent Online

Quade Cooper, the outside-half who can win this World Cup for Australia, was born a New Zealander – and not a million miles from Auckland, either, which makes him more interesting still ahead of this weekend's trans-Tasman semi-final at Eden Park. Maybe this explains why his Wallaby colleagues are not quite sure what makes him tick; not entirely certain whether he is simply a riddle in human form, a slightly more complicated conundrum on legs, or a full-blown enigma wrapped up in a mystery. The only definite take on him yesterday came from the centre Anthony Fainga'a, who was heard to say: "Quade? I can tell you this. He never has two bad games in a row. Ever."

As Cooper undeniably had a rough one against the Springboks in Wellington three days ago, he is presumably in the best place to deliver something rather more accomplished against the All Blacks. This is not lost on the hosts, who would clearly prefer their nearest neighbours to run someone else in the No 10 position. "He's mercurial, he's dangerous – when he has a really good game, you're in trouble," admitted the New Zealand coach, Wayne Smith.

It is routinely said in these parts that Cooper is the most loathed man in the country: in one recent poll, he registered a higher disapproval rating than the two French agents convicted of blowing up the Rainbow Warrior in the city harbour a little over a quarter of a century ago. Over the last few months, he has compounded his sins by falling out with the All Black captain Richie McCaw.

His team-mates will defend him to the hilt, though. Will Genia admitted Cooper's performance was some way short of perfect against the Boks, but would never speak ill of him. "He'll respond to last week in a very positive way," Genia insisted. "At the meeting we've just had, he was throwing out ideas he thought would benefit the team."

The last time the Wallabies prevailed over their great rivals in this city, 22-6 in 1986, the World Cup era had yet to begin. It is not a record on which they are keen to dwell, but it is one they are determined to rewrite. "I don't know if there is more pressure on the All Blacks, or whether they're feeling it more: it's not a question I can answer without being a member of their squad," back Adam Ashley-Cooper said. "But I do know that this is the most important game of everyone's career. I'm still coming down from the Springbok match, yet I know it's even bigger this weekend. It's pure excitement, isn't it? What else do you want?"