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ESPN SCRUM / ESPNscrum Columnist
Greg Growden
Greg Growden | Columnist Index
After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
Greg Growden writes ...
Quade prepares for another Kiwi barrage
Greg Growden
October 16, 2013
Quade Cooper's Test career started to unravel at Rugby World Cup 2011 © Getty Images
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Mark Twain said it best in his autobiography: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."

Statistics have been compared to bikinis - showing everything, showing nothing. Statistics are great - you can use them to prove anything. Whether they prove everything is another matter.

No surprises that the rugby world was all agog this week when the Sydney Daily Telegraph's reputable Jamie Pandaram used Fox Sports statistics to show that "Quade Cooper is a better tackler than Richie McCaw". Statistics supplied to Pandaram showed that Cooper, a player lampooned since day one for his defensive flaws, had a better overall tackling percentage than McCaw during The Rugby Championship.

Yes, I can hear the squeals of laughter from every New Zealander bouncing off the South Pole as we speak. Giggle away Kiwis, but Fox Sports Stats say Quade Cooper has an 84.4% tackling success rate, while McCaw was at 82.3%. So there!

Jamie was perfectly in his right to write this headline-grabbing story. It's what newspapers rely on. A debating point. A revelation. An issue. Facts and figures that compel the reader to the page. The story's already sucked me and plenty of other mugs in.

New Zealand fans display a banner on the fence, New Zealand v Australia, Bledisloe Cup, The Rugby Championship, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, August 24, 2013
Quade Cooper can expect another hostile reaction in Dunedin © Getty Images
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Has it made Cooper's task on the weekend any easier? The answer to that question will probably produce a very low statistical figure, certainly well below 84.4 or 82.3. Rather, it will amplify the pressure on a player yet to show he has the mental nous or the physical prowess to match the All Blacks. You can guarantee All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has already cut out this piece, and will use it as part of his rev-up this week - pushing the point that McCaw has to effect many more tackles in a Test than does Australia's fly-half.

Remember Rugby World Cup 2011 and the abuse hurled at Cooper throughout the tournament, after separate incidents involving he and Richie McCaw, revolving around how as a New Zealander he was a traitor to now be playing against the All Blacks. This campaign was at times unnecessarily vicious, a blot on the tournament. But it had the desired effect of destabilising a player who had the capability of ensuring "four more years" of pain for the hosts.

No Wallabies player has ever been subjected to the amount of personal vitriol that Cooper experienced over those six weeks, and it was no surprise that it got to him. He appeared frazzled. He lost confidence. His on-field performances plummeted. Wallabies coach Robbie Deans then gave up on him, and that began the slide that led to Cooper finally being left out all altogether last year, coinciding with the Test No.10 describing the Australian team environment as "toxic".

So you can imagine the placards around the Dunedin stadium this weekend, questioning brutally whether Cooper is now actually a tackling machine and if rugby statisticians resemble Mr Magoo.

Do we actually want a third Bledisloe Cup Test, and if so should it be staged earlier in the year?

The locals know they can bait Cooper. And they will. He won't be able to avoid it, especially as the McCaw-Cooper rift is constantly brought up in New Zealand. The slagging off will start as soon as the Wallabies land in New Zealand on Wednesday, reaching a crescendo on Saturday.

Then again, it is time for Cooper to show that statistics aren't damned lies, and that he is not a liability against the All Blacks. Cooper's defence has improved in recent times; it is not in the McCaw league, but Cooper at least appears more determined to take opponents head-on - even though still making the mistake of attacking the body far too high, which enables the stronger players to flick him off. Nonetheless, Cooper is not hidden away in defence as much as he used to be.

If Cooper is to make a presence in Dunedin, it will still revolve more around what he does when he has the ball in his hands. But that may not be that often considering the Wallabies pack has been poor most of the season - and often been swept aside at scrum time. Cooper will not feel confident about receiving ball on a silver platter.

The numbers with any proper meaning will depend upon what Cooper can do with messy scraps. Doubly difficult with Richie McCaw hovering, wanting to prove a point.


Follow live text commentary of the Bledisloe Cup Test between New Zealand and Australia on Saturday, October 19 from 7pm (NZDT), 5pm (AEDT) and 6am (GMT)

Quade Cooper hasn't improved his tackling so much since 2012 to scare Richie McCaw © Getty Images
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