Wallabies coach Michael Cheika pretty much asked for it, and now New Zealand has duly obliged.
The All Blacks are set to make a bee-line straight for man-of-the-moment Quade Cooper in Saturday night’s Bledisloe Cup decider at Eden Park.
That’s the word from Cooper’s nemesis, Richie McCaw, who even called for help from a parochial Auckland crowd to help throw the enigmatic Wallabies five-eighth off his game.
“From our point of view we’ve got to put as much pressure on him as we can,” the New Zealand captain told reporters on Friday.
“He’s the flyhalf for their team and we want to make it as tough a night for him as possible.
“That’s all I’m worrying about. If the crowd help out with that, that’d be good.”
That New Zealand will target Cooper, the perceived defensive weak link in the Australian side, should come as no surprise to Cheika.
Simply by having the gall to pick him, Cheika has effectively waved a red rag at the entire nation of New Zealand and asked them to take their best shot.
It is fair to question whether Cooper can handle the magnitude of the task and the occasion, particularly given his previous misfires at Eden Park and his recent social media brainfade when he lashed out at a New Zealand journalist who wrote that his “crazy” antics were damaging to the team’s World Cup hopes.
But there seems little doubt inside Camp Wallaby that the 27-year-old is poised to provide an adequate response to the doubters.
“That’s all peripheral stuff,” captain Stephen Moore said.
“He’s had a good week of training and we’ve got full faith in him.
“Cheik’s made it clear everyone in the squad plays a huge role and to show faith in someone like Quade in a game like this is terrific.”
Cooper is one of six changes made to the Wallabies side that beat New Zealand in Sydney last week to set up a first Bledisloe decider in seven years.
He joins halfback Nic White and the in-form Matt Toomua as part of an Australian playmaking nucleus from last year’s Spring Tour that Cheika is keen to revisit.
But Cooper needn’t treat this match as sink-or-swim in his bid to make Australia’s World Cup squad, which will be announced next week.
“When he was selected, I spoke to him, saying: ‘There’s nothing to prove here. This is not some type of test for you. This is about you doing your job for the team in the game,'” Cheika said.
“I don’t think that this is the appropriate match to say, play good here and you’ll get in the World Cup.
“I’d say it’s pretty obvious… our playmakers that have been rotating around, they’re centre stage for me. They’re coming.”