Barnes and Cooper combination key for Wallabies

JOSH RAKIC
Last updated 05:00 01/10/2011
RWC: Australia v USA
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax Media
HELP: Quade Cooper will be happy to have Berrick Barnes outside him.
Berrick Barnes
Getty Images
KEY MAN: Berrick Barnes of the Wallabies runs with the ball.

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Forget the scoreboard, the most vital aspects of the Wallabies' clash with Russia today will be the performance of Berrick Barnes and Quade Cooper together, and the ability of the Australian scrum to dominate their opponents.

Barring any further injuries to key forwards, Australia's long-term aspirations in the World Cup rest almost solely on the No.10 and 12. Behind a beaten forward pack missing David Pocock against Ireland, Cooper was overwhelmed and played the side into a corner on the rare occasion the Australians had the ball.

But with Barnes by his side in the second half against the USA last week, there was composure and structure to the Wallabies' attack, albeit against a far weaker opponent. Barnes appears to have rediscovered his confidence and form after a season marred with head injuries, and his tactical kicking game against a physical USA team allowed Cooper to take on the line more, at the right times, and more importantly, gave the Australian forwards an opportunity to get on top.

Skipper James Horwill is confident the former Reds team-mates can produce for the Wallabies and said yesterday his forwards had developed significantly over the past fortnight and plan on making a statement against the Russians.

"I think our scrum is something we've been improving on this year and up until and probably since the Ireland game, I think it's a thing that's been improving and I think become a real strength of ours," said Horwill after yesterday's captain's run.

"I can't see it changing. We still work very hard on it and that was shown in the improvement we've had in the scrum [since Ireland]. We've spent a lot of time on it.

"Anytime you have a performance you are not proud of you do everything you can for that not to happen again. Because that feeling you have after a game when you've put in a performance that individually and as a group you're not proud of, it sucks. It's a crappy feeling.

"And we're going to do everything we can not to feel that way again."

Despite the relaxed build-up to today's match with a three-day rest in Hanmer Spring and only two training sessions and a captain's run all week, Horwill is adamant his side is primed for dominant performance.

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Almost a month since having arrived in New Zealand, most players have enjoyed the company of their partners over the past week and Horwill said the break had done his side good.

"We've had two good days of training here in Nelson - [Thursday] was pretty good and the captain's run felt pretty sharp," he said.

"But there is no need for extra motivation. This is a test match and a match that we must win to go forward in this competition. Everyone in the team knows that is what is required."

The Russians have struggled with the set piece, which is the poorest aspect of their game and more often than not results in them losing ball from their own line-outs and scrum. But where they've proved difficult is defensively. And not so much for their ability to hold their line, but their physicality at the confrontation.

"I think they're very physical and have a big back three," Horwill said.

"Their back three have been very impressive in the last couple of outings. They're a team that's going to give it their all because it's their chance to play against a top tier nation in their first World Cup. They'll be pretty pumped up for the occasion."

Russia narrowly lost by one try to the USA team that handed the Wallabies a plethora of injuries to star players including Rob Horne, Wycliff Palu, Pat McCabe and Dan Vickerman. And the USA were actually forced to rest a number of players for that match after their brutal encounter with the Russians just days earlier.

Horwill knows the dangers facing his team and that the Wallabies can't afford anymore injuries, but conceded today was the last opportunity the Wallabies would have to fine tune their attack before a likely quarter-finals showdown with South Africa.

"The way that we're playing, we feel we're starting to get where we want to be," he said.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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