SYDNEY, September 10 – All eyes will be on the flawed defensive techniques of rival flyhalves Quade Cooper and Aaron Cruden in Saturday's final Australia-New Zealand Tri-Nations Test in Sydney.Playmaker Cooper has been the spark that has ignited the Wallabies’ backline this year, while Cruden is in line for his sixth Test cap as a replacement for the injured Daniel Carter.
The All Blacks are bidding to become the first team to win all six matches in a southern hemisphere championship series and are chasing 10 straight wins over the Wallabies and 15 consecutive victories against allcomers.
While this weekend’s Test has no bearing on the Tri-Nations and trans-Tasman Bledisloe Cup, most interest will centre on performances less than a year out from the World Cup in New Zealand.
Cooper, who on Friday ended weeks of speculation by re-signing with the Australian Rugby Union, has been at the fulcrum of the Wallabies’ attack, but in the meantime has been badly exposed in defence.
In last weekend’s 41-39 win over the Springboks in South Africa, statistics reveal that Cooper made just five tackles from 12 attempts and in three games this year he has completed just 30 tackles from 58 attempts.
It’s an area of Cooper’s game that has concerned Wallabies’ coach Robbie Deans in the lead-up to a match against the thoroughly-coached All Blacks.
"We anticipate that he will get some questions asked, without a doubt," Deans said.
"It won’t be the only place they ask questions, but the key is for us to get better at what we do. Clearly we haven’t been perfect to that end, but that’s not the only area of opportunity the All Blacks would have spotted."
Wallabies scrumhalf Will Genia said his scrumbase partner would be expecting All Black traffic to come his way and he would have to deal with it.
"In modern day rugby the attack is focused around that number 10/12 area. He just has to toughen up and make his tackles," Genia said.
Fortuitously for Deans, the All Blacks appear to have the same problem with Cruden.
The big Wallaby ball-runners are likely to target the lightly-framed Wellington Hurricanes pivot, who, although a brilliant attacker, is also defensively suspect.
Australian rugby television analysts this week highlighted the defensive frailties of Cruden, a testicular cancer survivor, in his Tests for New Zealand and in the provincial Super 14 series.
It is likely that the rival coaches will have their open-side flankers, All Black skipper Richie McCaw and Wallaby David Pocock to patrol as defensive guard dogs for their respective number tens in Saturday’s Test.
The match will be played against the backdrop of last weekend’s powerful Christchurch earthquake, which left an estimated 100,000 buildings damaged in the country’s second-biggest city, but killed nobody.
Assistant coach Steve Hansen, who joined the squad late after leaving his condemned property, gave a rallying cry for the All Blacks to do their bit in the final Tri-Nations match to soothe a fractured nation.
"One of the messages I was given is if you’re coming over here (Australia) make sure the time you’re spending away from the people you love is worthwhile," Hansen said. "It’s put an extra edge on the Test."
This is the third of the four-match Bledisloe Cup series and the All Blacks have secured the trophy for an eighth consecutive year after previous wins, 49-28 in Melbourne and 20-10 in Christchurch.
The final Bledisloe Cup Test will be staged in Hong Kong on October 30.