He has recovered from one headache but Adam Ashley-Cooper faces another as he bounces back from the concussion sustained when making a try-saving tackle on Springboks fullback Zane Kirchner in tomorrow night's Bledisloe Cup clash at Suncorp Stadium.
Another aspect of the 72-test utility back's defensive prowess is sure to be tested by a ruthless All Black side, as Ashley-Cooper's focus turns to anticipating and negating Daniel Carter's probing kicking game.
Ashley-Cooper, the Wallabies Mr Versatile, is responsible for marshalling a back three lacking the experience of Digby Ioane and Kurtley Beale, although the latter will be calling Australia's offensive shots opposite Carter.
With Nick Cummins playing only his second test on the left wing and New Zealand-born goal kicking five-eighth Mike Harris slotting in at fullback, the onus is clearly on Ashley-Cooper to nurse his back three babies through a baptism of fire in their first encounter with the All Blacks.
Fortunately the 28-year-old's faculties are intact after suffering "an old-fashioned knockout" blow at Loftus Versfeld on September 29 when he made a brave, though ultimately futile intervention before the Wallabies were belted 31-8.
"I'm happy I got through the CAT scans and the x-rays without any major issues," insisting his confidence was not dented by the experience.
He also gave the Wallabies a positive prognosis despite the injury toll escalating on a daily basis - tighthead Ben Alexander was yesterday's casualty with a wrist injury.
Decrying the moniker "dead-rubber" Ashley-Cooper said a depleted squad was desperate to secure a consolation victory at the ground where Australia savoured a 25-20 Tri-Nations-clinching triumph last August - the All Blacks most recent defeat.
"It's never a dead-rubber against these blokes. These guys are No.1 in the world so we have a good opportunity to get a little back," he bristled.
Curbing Carter's influence with ball in hand will be crucial with the world's premier pivot a past master at tormenting back three combinations with bombs or raking punts, so Ashley-Cooper was prepared to cover for Harris and Cummins.
"Absolutely. You can end up anywhere in the back field.
"We've been looking at DC's game all week and obviously he's got a very tactical and well-positioned kick off his left foot so we're going to have to be positionally sound.
"We'll have to work as a real unit and really shut down his space."
Ashley-Cooper, who prefers centre but is also an accomplished wing and last line of defence, regarded Carter as the international game's most threatening tactical kicker.
"He's the best five-eighth in the game so you can't give him any chance to expose you if you're a little bit off.
"We have to be switched on the whole game, you can't give him an inch, because he'll take it."
Even if Carter is contained Ashley-Cooper still looks at the All Blacks backline with envy, despite the absence of Sonny Bill Williams, a stand out when the Bledisloe was retained at Eden Park thanks to a resounding 22-0 win on August 25.
"There's some relief that Sonny Bill's not there but it's tough whoever you face in the midfield," he said
"Ma'a (Nonu) and Conrad (Smith) have been playing together for many years.
"They've got a pretty beast combination so we're going to have to really front up there."
In contrast Robbie Deans can only field three of his first choice backline: Ashley-Cooper, Beale and second five-eighth Pat McCabe, who tackles the seasoned Nonu-Smith pairing with two-test rookie Ben Tapuai.
In one positive for a backline also missing stars Will Genia, Quade Cooper and James O'Connor the test selection have at least had a settled build up, unlike the forward pack.
Alexander was the second front rower to withdraw from the original line-up after reserve hooker Saia Fainga'a had a hand broken in a training accident on Tuesday.
James Slipper is promoted from the bench for Alexander and Sekope Kepu - out of action with a knee injury since the opening Bledisloe - joins the reserves. James Hanson will become the 12th new Wallaby of the year if he replaces starting hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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