If the Wallabies can gain front-foot ball, there is little doubt Quade Cooper's reunited halves pairing with Will Genia poses a greater threat than what the All Blacks faced last week.
That is, however, a big if. Recalling the last time Australia dominated a New Zealand forward pack causes a headache. Gaining parity appears the visitor's best chance of breaking their Eden Park hoodoo tomorrow night.
Much of the pre-match talk has centred on Cooper's recall.
Berrick Barnes' irrational performance was a catalyst for last week's bumbling effort in Sydney. He has shifted out a spot and retained the goal-kicking duties, allowing the attacking-minded Cooper to concentrate on rejuvenating the disjointed Wallabies' ship. On paper, this side looks more capable of challenging the All Blacks.
The mercurial Cooper is either rocks or diamonds. There is little variation in between. Much of that depends on what sort of platform he is given. He doesn't enjoy a defensive mindset, or in-your-face pressure, but can thrive with the opposition backpedalling.
For the All Blacks, there is a risk that Cooper's ability to attract attention could elevate pressure for other key figures. Fringe defenders' focus may shift too much on shutting down the playmaker's space, which would allow stand-in captain Will Genia more chances to strike.
The Genia, Cooper, Barnes axis may not be a formidable defensive force, but the threesome has the potential to score plenty of points.
"Quade brings a lot to the game. He's similar to Kurtley [Beale] in the sense he has the ability to do things other players can't," Genia said.
"It is great having that outside you because it does release pressure on the inside. The greatest strength Quade brings to our side is communication and organisation. He gives the guys a lot of confidence. They know where they are going, they have clarity in direction. That's been evident right throughout our preparation this week."
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans spoke today of not using off the top line-out ball to limit the All Blacks' line-speed and give Cooper more time to "create doubt" and conjure up ways to spark his backline.
"It's difficult to play off static ball. We've got to find a way of creating momentum," Deans said.
The Wallabies must break their agonising string of defeats in Auckland dating back to 1986 to stop the All Blacks extending their decade-long Bledisloe Cup stranglehold, but judging by Deans' comments, there is a growing aura about Steve Hansen's men.
"There's no doubt they're playing great rugby, that's evident," Deans said. "They're a good side. They are on top of the world and they are playing with that confidence. They've got a lot of experience, a lot of good decision makers and they are surrounded by genuine capability and enthusiasm. That's a potent mix."
Genia admitted their was a familiar theme developing when they faced the All Blacks. Dealing with external pressure and criticism was now normal preparation.
"We haven't been too successful against the All Blacks so the criticism always seems to come in," he said. "It's a matter of how the group deals with it and how the senior players manage it. This week we've done that quite well."
The world-class halfback downplayed predictions his side were in for a towelling.
"I haven't read or seen anything where we've been written off," he said. "We are confident. We understand it will take a very special effort to get the win but we wouldn't be here if we didn't think we could do it."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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