Team talk – not for Wallabies

The animosity from some Kiwis directed at the Wallabies and, in particular, Quade Cooper at the Rugby World Cup is getting a bit nasty. Perhaps, Robbie Deans has erred in letting individuals become bigger than the team.

It's hard to escape the feeling the Wallabies have been their own worst enemies with the volume of ill-feeling being directed at them at the World Cup.

In fact, I'd say they have heaped most of the misery on themselves, mainly through the antics of youngsters Quade Cooper and James O'Connor.

Aussie bashing is nothing new to New Zealand. We've been at it for years, though most of the time it's the good natured stuff that comes with neighbourly or sibling rivalry. Ultimately, the Anzac spirit usually shines through.

So it's disappointing to hear there's been a bit of an ugly edge. The minority of Kiwis responsible should really lift themselves above that. But, again, I don't know that the Wallabies themselves have done a lot to defuse the growing tide of sentiment against their side.

It's a scenario that could make life difficult for them on the field at this tournament. We saw that last week when they lost to an Irish team that suddenly enjoyed the comforts of a "home crowd" because they were playing Australia.

So why has this come about? Here's a bit of a theory.

While Australian sport has been blessed with some fantastic individuals, the success of their cricket, league and even their rugby sides has been their ability to play as a team, harnessing their Aussie Digger spirit and fighting qualities.

Yes, there has been a brashness about them but their success – particularly their domination in cricket and league – has made that hard to argue against.

But I'm not sure that team-first principle stands so strong with the likes of Cooper and O'Connor, and perhaps it's having a bit of an effect on performance and the way the Wallabies are perceived.

You think of the Wallabies right now and the names Cooper and O'Connor with their precocious Generation Y attitudes immediately spring to mind. All of a sudden these guys seem bigger than the team.

When you get a player like Cooper not just revelling in being "Public Enemy No 1 in New Zealand" but actively promoting it, is it any wonder that he's raising the anger levels of Kiwis?

It's one thing to take cheap shots at Richie McCaw but it's quite another to talk up the status that comes with that.

It's ironic that Cooper and O'Connor are two Wallabies who were born in New Zealand. Or is it? Maybe that's why there is a lot more animosity directed towards Cooper, or perhaps that's why he likes to get a few digs in against his old countrymen.

It seems a bit out of character for Wallabies coach Robbie Deans to be tolerating this, and not just because he's a New Zealander, too.

During his time with the Crusaders, Deans' virtues and coaching principles were all about the team mattering the most. The red and blacks would sometimes pick character over talent with their squad selections. It was all about a champion team rather than a team of champions.

I'm surprised Deans didn't nip this Cooper stuff in the bud at the start because it has quickly grown and now taken on another dimension. I can't imagine this sort of situation being tolerated when he had control of the Crusaders. Perhaps that's a little bit of the Australianisation of Deans. It might come from operating in a country where people tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves a bit more than they do on this side of the ditch. But, interestingly, a couple of former World Cup winning Wallabies have sounded warnings over the folly of this situation for the current team.

Right now, Deans has got a few other problems on his hands besides being in charge of a Wallabies team that's copping a bit of stick from the sidelines.

There's a mounting injury toll in the Australian camp that might test their depth, which has always been questionable.

The big win over the United States was costly on that front. But in terms of performance, I think it will have done the Wallabies a lot of good.

The way the pool draw has worked might actually do the Australians a favour after they were surprisingly bowled over by Ireland.

Having thumped the USA on Friday, there's just Russia to go on Saturday. Those two games mightn't sound like an ideal buildup for a likely quarterfinal with world champions South Africa. But considering the relative youth of the Wallabies it's probably a good thing rather than pressure-cooker matches.

Mentally, they can take stock and rebuild their confidence ahead of the Springboks. As I've said time and again, Australia can beat any team in isolated games but have big question marks over their ability to get a sustained run of victories against top opponents.

Taine Randell is a former All Blacks captain

Sunday News