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Auckland – All Black winger Cory Jane has urged New Zealand spectators not to single out Australian playmaker Quade Cooper for abuse in Saturday's second Bledisloe Cup Test in Auckland.
Fans jeered Cooper's every touch of the ball at last year's Rugby World Cup, targeting him because he plays for Australia, even though he was born in New Zealand, and has a long-running feud with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
But there was no sympathy for Cooper from McCaw who dismissed the taunting of the Wallabies pivot as “just one of those things”.
The Test on Saturday is set to take place in front of a fierce partisan crowd at Auckland's Eden Park, but Jane said it was time to lay off Cooper.
“I think sometimes the crowd probably needs to let it be,” he told Wellington's Dominion Post newspaper, adding “whatever is done is done”.
Addressing Cooper's history with McCaw, which has led to the Wallaby being accused of taking cheap shots at the revered New Zealand captain, Jane said gamesmanship was part of the sport.
“You put in a bit of niggle, everyone does it, it's a bit of fun,” he said.
“It's not as though he has absolutely given Richie a hiding or anything like that.”
McCaw, however, said if the abuse of Cooper persisted it was up to the player to turn it to his advantage.
“A bit of history creates that. It's just one of those things. If he goes out and does the job that's all he can do,” McCaw said.
“I know personally when you go overseas and play somewhere else those things get you fired up to play well, so it doesn't matter too much I wouldn't have thought.”
Cooper initially revelled in his unpopularity among New Zealanders during last year's World Cup, referring to himself on Twitter as the home fans' “public enemy number one”.
But the pressure appeared to get to him as the tournament wore on and he produced a string of erratic displays that contributed to Australia's exit in the semi-finals at the hands of the All Blacks.
The abuse became so bad that Cooper's septuagenarian grandmother, Millie, who still lives in New Zealand, leapt to the fly-half's defence, telling his critics to leave her “Quadey” alone.
Then, to cap off a dismal tournament, Cooper limped from the field with a ruptured knee ligament during the third-place play-off with Wales and was sidelined for seven months.
He will make his first appearance for the Wallabies since the World Cup in Saturday's match, drafted by coach Robbie Deans in the hope his mercurial skills can fire up an Australian side soundly beaten 27-19 in the first Test.
If Cooper feels nervous about his reception in Auckland, he was giving nothing away at a media conference on Thursday, limiting his remarks to a brief statement and refusing to take questions.
“All I want to say is, I'm back, I'm fit, healthy, I'm ready to go,” he told reporters before abruptly heading for the exit. – Sapa-AFP