Wallaby Cooper set for front-line action
Ben Horne
17:37 AEST Wed Aug 22 2012

Still recovering from the burns of the World Cup frying pan, Quade Cooper is set to be thrust into the front-line fire if recalled for the Wallabies' desperate Bledisloe Cup mission to Eden Park.

Cooper will find out on Thursday if he's to make his return to the Wallabies squad, after being controversially left out of last week's crushing loss to New Zealand in Sydney.

Australia's plan to protect Cooper by defending him at fullback during last year's World Cup proved disastrous - but it's unlikely to happen again with Wallabies coaching coordinator Tony McGahan confirming on Wednesday that if Cooper is recalled he'll defend at pivot.

"He'll be defending at No.10. If he gets the opportunity on Saturday night I'm sure he's only too keen to get back out there and show what he's made of," said McGahan.

"That's what drives competitive players and what drives competitive people.

"It's not the external thing of proving other people wrong, you really want to prove it to yourself."

New Zealand's World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry revealed in his recently released biography that his successful semi-final strategy against Australia centred on targeting Cooper - an already suspect defender lining-up in an unfamiliar position.

The Kiwi-born 24-year-old was already enemy No.1 with the New Zealand players and public, who took exception to a series of alleged cheap shots from Cooper on All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.

After a mistake-riddled first half, Cooper's campaign finished in agony in the second 40 minutes, with a ruptured knee.

If Cooper is named at No.10 on Thursday it will be major backflip from coach Robbie Deans, who preferred Berrick Barnes at ANZ Stadium and didn't even have the mercurial Queenslander on the bench.

Injuries have compounded the fact the Bledisloe Cup is on the line and Australia's Rugby Championship defence is on thin ice at a ground where they haven't beaten New Zealand in 26 years.

According to McGahan, the Wallabies will have no reservations about chucking Cooper back into the pressure-cooker against New Zealand in Auckland.

"No not at all, he wouldn't be training with us if we didn't think he had the ability to be there. Quade's got a lot of confidence about where he is at this point in time," said McGahan, who added Australia will consider reverting to a 4-3 split on the bench to allow for more backline versatility - as they prepare to throw everything they can at Steve Hansen's side.

Ben Alexander will come into the 22 and could start in place of the injured Sekope Kepu. And the Wallabies appear to be leaning towards playing two openside flankers, with Liam Gill set for a debut off the bench with Michael Hooper to start at No.7.

It's yet to be confirmed whether fullback Kurtley Beale will retain his spot after a shocker in Sydney, but McGahan suggested players were keen for retribution.

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