Australia coach Robbie Deans has backed mercurial Wallabies' playmaker Quade Cooper to be at his best in this weekend's World Cup semifinal with the All Blacks at Eden Park in Auckland.
Cooper, richly talented but given to overplaying his hand in attack, was in erratic form as Australia clung on to edge out defending champions South Africa 11-9 in their epic quarterfinal in Wellington on Sunday.
New Zealand-born Cooper, under intense scrutiny for his run-ins with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and routinely booed by locals each time he touches the ball, did not react well to the relentless Springbok pressure.
The 23-year-old flyhalf's turnover rate, four against the Boks and 16 during the tournament, and a tendency to slice tactical kicks in pressure situations left the Australians camped deep in their own half for much of the match.
Cooper's attacking flair was nullified by South Africa and his flawed defensive technique led to a series of missed tackles, one of which led to a Springbok 'try', disallowed by referee Bryce Lawrence.
The Wallaby flyhalf is viewed as a creative genius on attack, capable of creating something out of nothing with a moment of brilliance, but his defensive frailties are also well documented and the Wallabies and his Super Rugby franchise the Reds have taken to 'hiding' him with wing Digby Ioane moving in to the flyhalf channel to make his tackles.
In the match against the Springboks the Wallabies did not see much of the ball thus Cooper spent most of the game away from the action, and when he did get an opportunity on the ball he appeared flustered.
But Deans supported his maverick playmaker ahead of what is shaping as a massive pressure match this coming Sunday before a capacity New Zealand crowd at Eden Park, where the Wallabies have not won for 25 years.
Asked if he was concerned by Cooper's form, Deans said: "No, we're confident, he'll be fine, he'll bounce back, he's a resilient character.
"Clearly he wouldn't be happy with his performance (against the Springboks) but everybody made mistakes, some of our best made mistakes, but collectively they worked their way through," the former All Black added.
Deans has built his team's attack around the freakish ball skills of the Queensland Reds' playmaker and was in no doubt about his mental toughness.
"Quade's a pretty resilient character and he's delighted as we all are that we got through that challenge, and he was part of that and he did some good things within that, he was a point of difference on occasions," he said.
"So it's really important, you get high-profile players and they get an inordinate amount of scrutiny and they get an inordinate amount of reinforcement when things go well and that can create challenges for them when things don't go quite so well.
"If it isn't what they hoped it would be, it can bring mental baggage, but I think Quade has come a long way in terms of his understanding that it's a team game and it's about helping the team to get up and he did that.
"He deserves his piece of enjoyment off the back of that and it's a great risk for players that they actually miss a lot of what the game is all about when they get distracted by the little piece within it," added Deans.
With so much at stake New Zealand coach Graham Henry said he expected both teams to adopt a more conservative approach this weekend.
"I think the nature of rugby changes a wee bit in finals' football when the result is you can 'die' if you lose and that probably makes both sides a wee bit more conservative in the game they play," Henry said.
"So they don't chance their arm as much as they normally would do," he explained.
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