Cooper misses the mark ...

2011-07-09 00:00

THE two go head-to-head in the Super Rugby final in Brisbane today in what could be a pointer to bigger duels to come in the Tri-Nations and, most importantly, the Rugby World Cup.

Don’t get me wrong, Cooper is a real talent and arguably the most exciting individual running around the Super Rugby scene this year.

He’s made some big strides, bringing a bit more consistency to go with his electric game.

He’s a handful for any defence who won’t know what he’s planning to do until it’s unfolding in front of them.

But there are a couple of things that come with Cooper’s unpredictable approach. It’s a high-risk game he plays and it’s also one based on confidence.

New Zealanders should be used to this. We went through the heart-attacks that came with Spencer’s approach. Brilliant one minute, insane the next.

Is it a coincidence that Cooper looks a little like Spencer, body ink and all? Surprise, surprise, the Tokoroa-transplant concedes Spencer was one of his heroes.

Cooper has cleverly walked a tightrope this year, but I can’t help but feel that he’s an accident waiting to happen, that he will produce one trick too many that will fall into the hands of the Crusaders or the All Blacks.

Those Kiwi sides make a living off turnovers, so think twice Quade, even though that isn’t a trait of your instinctive game.

Then there’s Cooper’s goalkicking. It’s streaky. Even in the semi-final against the Blues his kicking for goal was shoddy while the match was tight early. A sign of tightness and nerves? Perhaps.

The Aussies made much of his late drop goal against the Blues as being a clever ploy that could pay dividends later in the season. Fair enough, but they overlooked his earlier wobbles from the kicking tee.

Cooper is a far from proven force at Test level and it will be interesting to see if Robbie Deans has the ultimate faith in him as the international season unfolds.

Deans isn’t short of alternatives from James O’Connor to Matt Giteau to Berrick Barnes.

Form would suggest Cooper has the Wallabies No. 10 jersey for the Tri-Nations, especially with the strong partnership he has formed with his halfback Will Genia.

I sense the All Blacks won’t mind that too much.

And I’m sure they will be more than comfortable with their playmaker in the ice-cool Carter.

Carter is a proven force at all levels. He has a consistency about his all-round game, particularly at Test level, that Cooper can only dream of.

Carter mightn’t have quite the running game of Cooper these days and Cooper’s sleight of hand passing is impressive. But overall, Carter’s distribution is rock solid. He knows when something “is on” around him and with the outside talent Carter works with, he’s more than content to let them express themselves.

But Carter cleans up in the kicking stakes — both in field kicking and shots at goal.

Carter also has a calmness that gives confidence to those around him. For all his individual brilliance, Carter plays an inclusive game.

Is it hard to weigh up the games of Carter and Cooper against each other?

It shouldn’t be too difficult for New Zealand rugby fans.

Think back to the continual debate around Andrew Mehrtens v Carlos Spencer.

Who will be remembered more fondly between those two contrasting characters?

Your answer to that will certainly colour your thinking on the Carter-Cooper puzzler.

If a game were hanging in the balance, I’d go with Mehrtens ahead of Spencer. Which means I’m more than comfortable in the Carter camp right now.

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