‘Expect the unexpected’

Jean de Villiers says the Springboks will be prepared for whatever the innovative Quade Cooper throws at them in Sunday’s quarter-final in Wellington.

If the Boks aren’t concerned about the Wallabies playmaker, they bloody well should be.

Together with Reds halfback partner Will Genia, Cooper tormented South African teams in this year’s Super Rugby competition. He’s always had attacking flair in abundance, but in many ways Cooper pushed the envelope in the 2011 season. He also improved his game management and tactical kicking to the point where he was considered one of the most complete attacking flyhalves in world rugby.

With Dan Carter crocked, Cooper is now the biggest threat in a No 10 jersey. His threat is amplified when he plays behind a strong pack, as was evident during the Reds’ Super Rugby and the Wallabies’ Tri-Nations campaigns. He’s well complemented by Genia, another player that can be as devastating in a tactical arm wrestle as he can in an open running game.

Bok coach Peter de Villiers said on Monday that South Africa will aim to limit the options of the Wallabies’ halfback pairing. The Boks know only one way to succeed in this tournament, and that is through their pack. They will look to overpower the Wallabies at the set-pieces, breakdowns and collisions, and then pressure them into penalties. With Morne Steyn starting at flyhalf, they won’t pose an attacking threat, but they will bank points through Wallabies’ trangressions.

They will miss Frans Steyn more from a tactical-kicking point of view than anything else. Jean de Villiers is an experienced and decorated inside centre, and will bolster the Boks both from an attacking and defensive perspective. It is in the latter discipline where he will need to be especially vigilant, as if the Wallabies’ pack obtains good go-forward, Genia and Cooper will take full advantage.

‘Our team is pretty settled in what we want to do and achieve,’ said De Villiers. ‘There will be a few tweaks [for this quarter-final match] and we have some more analysis to do, but we feel we have obtained some good momentum in the pool stages.

‘The intensity will lift in the knockout stages, and we will have to handle the pressure. They have a lot of variety in their side, and you never know quite what to expect when Quade Cooper is running the show.

‘Whether they play a tactical kicking game or run at our line, we must be ready for anything. A few of their big boys will run down that [10/12] channel, but I’m sure they will also try to work something through their skillful backs.

‘They’re a very clever side. We have to cover all of our bases.’

Cooper was at the heart of the Reds’ famous Super Rugby victory at Newlands earlier this year. On that day, an injured De Villiers watched from the stands as the Reds bullied the Stormers up front and then booted for territory through Genia and Cooper.

The Wallabies do have a more adventurous side, and when they cut the line they are typically clinical in the finish. Conditions may not be conducive to an all-out attack this Sunday, and the occasion may demand a measured approach, but the Boks will know that if they relax for just one instant, Genia and Cooper are capable of conjuring a linebreak and potentially a game-changing score.

By Jon Cardinelli, in Wellington