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Copper beaming after Shark taming

Tuesday, March 22, 2005    NZPA    

Four tries in the first quarter, seven tries to one for the game, five Rebel Sport Super 12 points in the bank, up to fifth on the table - all add up to one happy coach.

Cooper had been slightly wary of the Sharks when he arrived in South Africa, even though they had lost three straight games to start the season.

"When you factored in the travel and the humidity, I probably had a few nerves going into the game," he said.

"But what eventuated was certainly one of our best displays in a long time."

Since the start of the season, Cooper has maintained the Highlanders have a lot more talent than they have been given credit for, particularly in the backs.

He was vindicated at the weekend when the backs, led by Ben Blair's hat-trick of tries, sparked brilliantly.

"Our lineout has started to function a lot better and when they get some nice possession; our backs can really do some things.

"I've always believed we've had an exciting side. We just didn't really see it in our first two games.

"Any side that gets quality ball is dangerous and I think we showed that.
We had the confidence to run on to the ball."

Cooper conceded the Sharks, now hot favourite to claim the Super 12 wooden spoon, had not been up to much.

He had effusive praise for Blair, the unwanted Crusader who scored a record
28 points, and under-fire halfback Jimmy Cowan, who bounced back to form.

"Ben is playing as well as any fullback in New Zealand, really. His all-round skills are superb and he's running and kicking with confidence.

"Jimmy had a simple message and that was to go out there and find his first-five.

"It wasn't easy for him to come in under pressure but he responded well."

The Highlanders have now relocated to Cape Town, where they will stay and train until heading to Johannesburg to play the Cats.

Cooper said there was no point heading to altitude any sooner as it took a week to 10 days to fully acclimatise.

New Zealand sevens representative Josh Blackie is scheduled to rejoin the squad tomorrow, after flying in from Hong Kong.

The only injury concern the Highlanders have is over halfback Danny Lee (back), who will be assessed today and could come into the reserves.