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Quade Cooper relishing big showdown with rival Jonathan Sexton

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

The good news for the paying fans attending Saturday's game at the Aviva Stadium is that Australia's great entertainer is likely to be unleashed.

Quade Cooper may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the man has dancing feet and his star turn in last year's meeting between Ireland and the Wallabies still has the home defenders wondering.

The Queensland Reds star's likely inclusion for the first time under Michael Cheika will give Joe Schmidt and his brains trust something of a headache or two, but it will also set up a meeting between two of the world's more exciting No 10s in Cooper and Johnny Sexton.

The duo have crossed swords three times with the Australian coming out on top twice and he says he is looking forward to their next act.

"I think he's just a class act," he said. "He showed throughout the Lions series some of the best football he's played.

"He always continues to get better. I've always enjoyed playing against him from a personal standpoint. For me, I love the way he plays for an Irish fly-half.

"He's not a traditional Irish fly-half, who sits in the pocket and kicks. He likes to run. He loves to have a few little trick plays. Him being shortlisted for the IRB Player of the Year is well-deserved.

"Hopefully, we'll get the best Jonathan Sexton on the weekend and we can overcome that."

Cooper may be midway through a pretty normal end-of-season European tour, but the Wallaby comes across as a man on a journey of discovery.

Yesterday, he sat in the south Dublin hotel where Australia have based themselves and talked of the need to "become a better person, a better player and a better team-mate on the back of a good team".

The Wallabies must feel like they're stuck in something of a cycle as they move from European city to European city, facing questions about the crisis that saw Ewen McKenzie axed and replaced by Michael Cheika.

The process of moving on from the controversy over text messages sent by Kurtley Beale to the squad about a member of management continued as the utility back arrived into the squad.

Early reports in Australia suggest Beale could go onto the bench as the former Leinster coach looks to shake things up after two attritional Tests against Wales and France on top of the fast-paced opening tussle with the Barbarians.

There are concerns over star back Israel Folau's workload and the full-back could be rested, while Cheika may also bring in Will Genia to partner Cooper.

"If we're going to do it, this is the time," Cheika said. "But we have to focus on the result. It's a fine line - you back your players. You don't want to give games away, it's just about having a look at players in a different system."

That different system is taking Cooper some time to get used to as the Wallabies switch from McKenzie's style to Cheika's way.

"Cheika's style of play is all about bringing out the best, your strengths to the table and what you have to offer - making those strengths be the best you can be," he said. "In terms of the way we've been playing, it is a lot different to what I've been used to but I'm enjoying learning.

"From a professional point of view, you always want to improve. I see this as a great opportunity to continue to do that."

Cheika's local knowledge will be a small advantage this week, says Cooper.

"It does give us a little bit of inside knowledge, he does know the players very well and the style that the Irish play," the fly-half acknowledged.

"In international football, the margins are small between the top teams. So, on the day, throughout the week we do everything we can to prepare and then come into the match in the best physical condition to put in a good performance.

"Michael's very passionate about being physical and I think that's shown in our training, it's very intense, it's very physical. We know where we're going, the identity of the team. We're all heading in the same direction."

That identity is still forming and Wales and France spotted vulnerabilities in the Wallabies' defence. As long as they have Cooper, however, they'll have a chance of success.

Belfast Telegraph


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