All Blacks get physical, Wallabies turn to Cooper

Auckland (AFP) –


The All Blacks have wrapped up preparation for Saturday's Test against the Wallabies with a gruelling training session that cost them back-up scrum-half Finlay Christie.

Australia, meanwhile, turned to New Zealand's enemy number one Quade Cooper for guidance as both sides prepared for their annual showdown, with the prized Bledisloe Cup at stake.

The Bledisloe is rated on both sides of the Tasman Sea as second only to the World Cup in importance, and All Blacks skipper Sam Whitelock said New Zealand's determination to extend their 19-year run as holders was evident in training.

Their final full-contact session on Thursday "showed where we're at and hopefully we can put that straight into the game. The intent was there, the intensity was there," Whitelock said after leading the side through a much lighter captain's run on Friday.

The result was that Christie, the non-playing scrum-half in the squad behind Aaron Smith and Brad Weber, was sidelined with an injured shoulder. TJ Perenara was called in as his replacement.

"Finlay's got a bit of a bump and bruise," Whitelock said, summing up the mood in the All Blacks camp. "We had pretty intense training and I think he just got beaten up."

The Wallabies and All Blacks have had three weeks off since their warm-up internationals, where the All Blacks played Tonga once and Fiji twice to amass a total of 219 points and concede only 36.

Australia's 33-year-old Quade Cooper has not played for the Wallabies since 2017
Australia's 33-year-old Quade Cooper has not played for the Wallabies since 2017 MICHAEL BRADLEY AFP

The Wallabies are arguably more battle-hardened after a tough 2-1 series win over France, in which each match was decided in the dying minutes, and they have now turned to All Blacks nemesis Cooper to lift them further.

- Mercurial fly-half -

New Zealand-born Cooper became infamous in his native country early in his Test career when in two separate Tests he attacked then-popular All Blacks captain Richie McCaw off the ball.

In subsequent clashes in New Zealand, McCaw, and his successor Kieran Read, had to appeal to the crowd not to boo the mercurial fly-half, and to stop cheering whenever he made a mistake.

The 33-year-old Cooper has not played for Australia since 2017 and, while not in the match-day 23 this weekend, he has played an integral role in preparing the Wallabies. Coach Dave Rennie described his presence as "a real positive influence".

"Quade has been excellent, as we hoped... that experience really shines out at training and it's great preparation for us because he's really driving the opposition plays."

For 35 years, the Wallabies have arrived at the New Zealand team's fortress, Eden Park, full of confidence and left disappointed.

The Wallabies are preparing for their annual showdown against the All Blacks
The Wallabies are preparing for their annual showdown against the All Blacks MICHAEL BRADLEY AFP

Wallabies assistant coach Scott Wisemantel dismissed as "history" suggestions that a win and draw over the All Blacks last year meant the gap was closing.

But if the score is close at the three-quarter mark on Saturday, then he will believe an upset is possible.

"It's just who can hold their nerve and who can't. Hopefully it's close at the 60 mark and then that last 20 minutes is about who can keep applying pressure," Wisemantel said.