Gifford: Cooper simply couldn't match Carter

PHIL GIFFORD
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2013
Quade Cooper
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
DEJECTION: Quade Cooper shows his disappointment as the Reds are dumped out of this year's Super Rugby competition by the Crusaders.

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OPINION: How perfect for a match maker.

On one side the Southbridge Kid, Dan Carter, easy going, modest to a fault, such a nice guy he even throws his kicking tees, which he's signed before the game, into the crowd.

On the other side the Tokoroa Tearaway, Quade Cooper, who boldly said he was looking forward to being a target for Kiwi crowds at the 2011 World Cup, the man who seems determined to start a fist fight with Richie McCaw, and who, if that wasn't enough to make them have a special place in their hearts for him in Canterbury, the bloke who tweeted that the atmosphere created by Robbie Deans was toxic.

Just in case there was any tiny doubt about how the local fans felt about Cooper he wasn't just booed when kicking for goal, just touching the ball was enough for him to be verbally reviled, right to the final minute.

To play to the strengths of their first-fives, both teams needed to provide quick, clean ball.

Cue the Crusaders.

It was obvious from the kick-off that the All Blacks crammed into their pack were revved up the way they were when they played the Chiefs two weeks ago.

You could look at Corey Flynn, smashing into the breakdowns, making a vital steal, and spearheading a scrum that from the first set in the game had the Reds in trouble. Or Luke Romano, playing with such ferocity it was difficult to believe that he was a knife-edge selection during the week as he returned from a back injury.

Or George Whitelock, who must have lost count of the number of times he's been the slugger used to take the first tackle when the ball is being run back from kick-offs.

Or Wyatt Crockett not just running like a midfield back, but unloading like one to Matt Todd, so Tom Marshall could score the crucial try that put the game out of sight for the Reds.

Or Sam Whitelock, whose towering lineout work was matched yet again by his work ethic, and then, out of some deep well of energy, produced a blistering break during which he beat, not just with strength, but also with pace, Will Genia, not a man ever known for being lead-footed.

The Reds have some gutsy forwards, and in James Horwill the sort of battler any international team in the world would be happy to have in their squad.

But, collectively, they were embarrassed by the physicality of the Crusaders.

The Reds didn't suffer for a lack of size, it was the lack of last man standing determination that let them down.

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Under those circumstances the Carter-Cooper match-up was basically a no-contest. The Reds have buried Cooper away at fullback for some time on defence.

The truly weird touch last night was that, for large slabs of the game, they hid him away on attack too.

On the other hand, Carter this year has been as involved as much as he ever has since he first ran out in a Crusaders jersey in 2003.

So while Cooper was the ghost that kicks, Carter was attacking the line, running a perfect line for Ryan Crotty to bash in for a try, then capped off the Sam Whitelock break by leaping into overdrive in a way that would have been impressive from a 20-year-old wing.

In the end the competition between the teams was as one-sided as the battle between Carter and Cooper.

The Crusaders will know that, next weekend in Hamilton, the contest will be infinitely tougher.

But if they play again like they did last night, it'll take the best performance of the Chiefs' season to hold them out.

- Sunday Star Times

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