Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has played down his selection of Quade Cooper for Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup decider, saying the enigmatic five-eighth is simply another cog in the Australian machine.
It was already keenly anticipated, but the pre-game hype around Auckland has gone to another level following Cheika’s decision to start Cooper at flyhalf against New Zealand at Eden Park, where the 27-year-old famously flopped in the 2011 World Cup.
It has already been labelled the biggest gamble of Cheika’s coaching career and looms as a defining moment for Cooper, who was mercilessly booed by a parochial Auckland crowd during his howler of a performance in the semi-final against the All Blacks, and then busted his knee against Wales at the same venue days later.
The same New Zealand press that once labelled him as the country’s ‘Public Enemy No.1’ is again rubbing its hands together in glee, with Friday’s New Zealand Herald featuring a splash on Cooper that read: ‘What are they thinking?’
But a bemused Cheika said he wasn’t looking to make a “massive statement” by picking Cooper.
“It’s a bit of fun, it makes good copy, but I’m pretty clear with how I’m picking the team,” Cheika said.
“I’m just picking guys to play the game.
“Maybe it’s a little bit advantageous to me because I wasn’t around when all that stuff happened with Quade.
“I don’t really know too much about it.
“He’s really improved during training over these last few weeks and I think that combination with Matt Toomua is one I’d like to see out here.”