Cooper could switch to fullback as Wallabies up the ante
Wallabies playmaker Berrick Barnes has fired the first psychological shot to trigger another week of inevitable mind games before Sunday’s show stopper against the All Blacks in Auckland.
WALLABIES playmaker Berrick Barnes has fired the first psychological shot to trigger another week of inevitable mind games before Sunday’s show stopper against the All Blacks in Auckland.
Not even more injury concerns for both camps could remove the spectre of Australia’s well-documented, 25-year, Eden Park hoodoo.
But the straight-shooting Barnes needed just nine words to remind edgy New Zealanders that the All Blacks had demons of their own to bury before they could start thinking about lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time in 24 years.
“They’re worried about us come World Cup time too,” Barnes said.
Australia have never lost to New Zealand at the quadrennial tournament and famously sent the All Blacks packing with semi-final muggings in 1991 and 2003.
“There’s Aussie hoodoos left, right and centre here and 80 minutes at Eden Park come next Sunday,” Barnes said.
Having long-time sparring partners Robbie Deans and Graham Henry in the two coaches’ boxes only adds to the spice of the occasion.
Both will be desperate for their teams to advance after being in the All Blacks’ corner for New Zealand’s premature exits from the past two tournaments.
Henry presided over the All Blacks’ worst campaign ever in 2007 while countryman Deans was assistant to John Mitchell when Stirling Mortlock’s long-range intercept try inspired Australia to their semi-final upset in `03.
Now Deans is plotting New Zealand’s demise and insists the Wallabies’ quarter-of-a-century drought at the All Blacks’ Auckland fortress counts for nothing.
“Well, it’s the first occasion we’ve played them in a semi-final of a World Cup at Eden Park, so there’s no history,” he said.
“We’re hugely excited. It’s fantastic. We know each other well as teams. There’s a huge amount of history; there’s no more history than between the Wallabies and the All Blacks – and there’s a lot of history at World Cup time as well.”
In what should please the Australians, South African referee Craig Joubert, rewarded for his work in charge of the free-flowing Wales-Ireland quarter-final, has been appointed to control the blockbuster.
But for the Wallabies, it almost wasn’t to be. Despite scoring the only try of the game in their torrid match against the Springboks, Australia were starved of territory and possession by a hugely experienced South African side and were almost strangled out of the game altogether. Only a mesmerising individual display by David Pocock kept the Wallabies within touch as well as the ice-cool kicking of young James O’Connor who slotted the winning penalty in the 72nd minute to set up the tantalising semi-final with the Kiwis.
Meanwhile, Deans says Quade Cooper could start at fullback with Berrick Barnes at five-eighth if Kurtley Beale is ruled out of Sunday’s game.
Australia’s most dangerous attacker all campaign, Beale needs scans to determine the extent of the hamstring injury that caused him to limp off against South Africa.
Shortlisted for world player of the year honours in 2010, Beale had to sit out Australia’s last pool game against Russia because of a hamstring twinge and has been nursed through the tournament since.
The 23-year-old only trained twice, including a light captain’s run before the Springboks showdown, but looked unaffected when he made a typically dynamic 40-metre run against the Boks in Wellington.
He lasted 75 minutes but was hobbling noticeably when replaced.
Deans and his medical staff are confident he hasn’t torn his hamstring but anxiously await the result of his MRI on Tuesday.
While centre Pat McCabe – who produced a mighty defensive effort in his first game back from a shoulder dislocation – was recovering well on Monday after being replaced in 53rd minute against South Africa, prop Sekope Kepu, like Beale, was booked for a scan after rolling his ankle.
“First reports are that it’s not syndesmosis, which is a good starting point because that’s the sinister ankle injury,” Deans said.
“Pat (McCabe) is good. The strength has come back quickly. He got a couple of `stingers’ and he obviously wasn’t comfortable at the time, so we withdrew him from the game at that point but he’s recovered very well.”
Deans was hopeful over Kepu and Beale, but said the Wallabies at least had options if they should be ruled out.
Should Beale fail to recover in time, the most obvious option would be to play either Adam Ashley-Cooper at fullback and bring Anthony Faingaa into the centres, or use James O’Connor at No.15 and give Lachie Turner a shot on the wing.
But with Barnes once again providing great impact and experience off the bench in the tense closing stages on Sunday, Australia’s one-time vice-captain looms as a possibility to assume the chief playmaking duties.
Cooper had an off day in Wellington, kicking poorly, making a series of handling errors and generally looking uncertain.
Asked on Monday if he would consider starting Cooper at fullback, where the brilliant attacker usually defends, and alternating him with Barnes, Deans said: “Yeah, well we’ve seen that already in games. There’s a number of possibilities.”
Deans will name his semi-final line-up on Friday and won’t be rushing into any decisions or pushing his battered and bruised charges too hard in the meantime.