Auckland - Quade Cooper could barely contain his amusement as he was repeatedly quizzed about being New Zealand's 'Public Enemy Number One' at a news conference he described as resembling the "Jerry Springer Show" on Thursday.
The Wallabies flyhalf, a New Zealand-born Maori who moved to Australia as a teenager, has been a fixture in the local media since he arrived in Auckland last week, cast in the role of pantomime villain at the World Cup party.
Criticism of his supposed feud with New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw culminated in Australia's 1991 World Cup winning skipper Nick Farr-Jones describing Cooper as a "boofhead" for riling up the hosts ahead of what he anticipated being an All Blacks-Wallabies final.
Clearly the biggest story in town this week after the All Blacks moved south for their second match of the tournament against Japan, Thursday's Australian news conference was a packed house and there was no doubting who was star of the show.
For his first couple of attempts to tackle questions about his unpopularity, the 23-year-old tried a little spin.
"The positive is that people are backing us to make the final against New Zealand," he said.
"But a lot of things have got to happen for us to be in the final against the All Blacks and we've got a massive game against the Irish and we have to give Ireland the respect they deserve."
For the next question on the subject, he said he had found Aucklanders to be very supportive and suggested it was all a media invention.
"You've got to write about something when we're not playing football," he said.
Finally, as coach Robbie Deans appealed for reporters to get back to discussing the team he had selected to play Ireland in Pool C on Saturday, Cooper resorted to bluntness.
"To be honest, I don't really care," he said.
Cooper later tweeted that he had struggled to contain his amusement and compared the news conference to the American trash-talk TV show.
"... it was like a Jerry Springer show," he said on his Twitter page.
To be fair to the local media, Cooper has sometimes playfully stoked the fires himself, suggesting, for example, that his reputation got him selected for dope testing after Australia's 32-6 opening victory over Italy last weekend.
"He's the sort of guy that enjoys that, the pressure and also a little bit of the spotlight," Will Genia, his halfback partner since their schooldays, said earlier this week.
Cooper's sometimes brilliant performances on the field are integral to Australia's hopes of winning the World Cup and that was what Deans preferred to talk about.
"I don't have thoughts on the matter to be fair," the New Zealander said. "It's great to have Quade with us and he's totally committed to the best interests of the team."
Cooper, a member of the Ngapuhi tribe, still has relatives all over New Zealand's North Island and said he had really enjoyed the way the Maori culture had been made an integral part of the tournament.
"It's good for the country, and it's great for the countries coming in to get a feel for the cultural side of New Zealand," he said. "It's a very humbling experience to be welcomed in that way."
Cooper was born in Auckland but grew up in Tokoroa, a town of 15,000 which has also produced All Blacks Keven Mealamu and Richard Kahui, Ireland scrumhalf Isaac Boss, as well as Fiji flyhalf Nicky Little.
Cooper left his best line until last, when asked whether there was something "in the water" in the Waikato town.
"That's what everyone's been saying but I remember a few years back when I was living there, there was plenty of giardia in the water, so it's definitely not that," he said, referring to a parasite that causes sickness and diarrhoea. "Could be something else."
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