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'Deadly' NZ backs worry Ashley-Cooper

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Sportal.co.nz     17 Aug 2012     Getty Images

All the focus has been on the All Blacks' enormous midfield combination in the lead up to the Investec Rugby Championship opener in Sydney.

Ashley-Cooper will start on the right wing and concedes he's happy he doesn't have to mark 104kg wrecking ball Nonu or 108kg freight train Williams.

But the 67-Test veteran says the real danger could lie in the All Blacks back three of Israel Dagg, Hosea Gear and Cory Jane.

"I'd certainly prefer to be out there (on the wing) than in the midfield to contain those two, but across the board it's still going to be a very tough job for us," Ashley-Cooper said on Thursday.

"Sonny and Ma'a, they're some of the best midfielders in the game and obviously their combination is fairly new, but that certainly won't detract from the fact that they're a great midfield pair.

"They're great inside backs so for us and Ant Fainga'a and Rob Horne have got a real job on their hands on Saturday night.

"But they've got a deadly attacking back-three with the likes of Israel Dagg, Hosea and Cory Jane.

"They've played some really good football throughout the (Investec) Super Rugby season and throughout that Ireland series, so for us we definitely have to work as a unit because if we don't they'll expose us."

Dagg and Jane were two of the All Blacks' best performers in the 20-6 World Cup semi-final victory over Australia last October.

Their ability to repeatedly diffuse the Wallabies' midfield bombs and return them with interest was one of the major differences between the two sides at Eden Park.

But Ashley-Cooper is confident the Wallabies have made the necessary adjustments ahead of Saturday's clash.

"What it comes down to is our tactical kicking game has to be better than it was on that night," Ashley-Cooper said.

"Our kicks have got to be a lot more contestable and our kick-chase has got to be better.

"We've done a lot of work on that over the last couple of weeks and we're hoping we apply a lot of pressure in that area on Saturday night and get a good result."

Ashley-Cooper has scored the third-most tries against the All Blacks in Wallabies history with six, trailing only David Campese (eight) and Matthew Burke (seven).

The 28-year-old is a chance to break that record this season with three Bledisloe Cup fixtures to be contested.

"I certainly wasn't aware of that. As much as you'd like to score tries I think it's just important to go out there and perform your role first," Ashley-Cooper said.

"I think if you do that and obviously have an influence on the blokes around you you might have the opportunity to cross the line.

"But until that happens I've just got to focus on my role and do it well."