Host nation frets that reviled Cooper may shatter fragile optimism

 

Auckland

If there is much justice left in the world the agony of doubt gripping this fine land of decent instincts and, by and large, the most superior sporting values for another 24 hours will be satisfactorily resolved with an All Blacks victory in the second semi-final.

Then, everyone but the ejected Aussies can relax for a day or two before the onset of next Sunday's final. The news that New Zealand captain Richie McCaw starts tomorrow, and with assurances that the worst of his injury troubles are over, certainly has been an encouragement to such local optimism.

There is even talk of third choice fly-half Aaron Cruden doing something more than attempting to soften the nagging pain of Daniel Carter's absence. Indeed, some Kiwis believe that he can forge a partnership with the resilient Piri Weepu that will promise some life AD – After Daniel.

All of this, naturally, has lifted the mood of the nation, but then some will tell you the upbeat mood is as fragile as cut glass.

This is because if there is one nation on earth that detests losing more than New Zealand it is Australia. Another complication is that, in the absence of the sublime Carter, the greatest threat to the All Blacks' peace of mind is Quade Cooper.

He is the most reviled of Aussies here, a renegade Kiwi who played quite wretchedly against South Africa last weekend.

Unfortunately, he is also arguably the most naturally gifted player left in this World Cup – one plainly capable of remaking himself tomorrow. That he will do so is a matter of silent but inexorable dread. Certainly, it is not hard to see the Aussies in the final – against Wales, of course.

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