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Tahs wary

Thursday, July 03, 2014

SYDNEY - Wallabies star Adam Ashley-Cooper is relishing his head-to-head duel with exciting new All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.

But he agrees with coach Michael Cheika that the NSW Waratahs' vital clash with the fourth-placed Highlanders, like most Super Rugby battles, will be decided elsewhere.

Fekitoa has proven a revelation this season, the 22-year-old not only riding roughshod over rivals with his dynamic power but also forcing New Zealand Test selectors' hands.

With Conrad Smith injured, Fekitoa earned his international starting debut in the All Blacks' third Test rout of England last month.

Ashley-Cooper and Cheika are well aware of the danger the powerhouse youngster poses, but aren't obsessing about devising a game plan to combat him.

"I'm a bit old fashioned unfortunately. I believe that the focus has to go up front and around the playmakers that will liberate Fekitoa to do what he can do.

"If we start thinking about Ben Smith and Fekitoa, (Patrick) Osborne, (Richard) Buckman, who are all good players out wide, we'll forget about the inside.

"And if the inside dominates us, we're gone regardless.

"So let's take on the inside threat first. They've got a very good forward pack."

Ashley-Cooper said he'd been monitoring Fekitoa's progress closely this year.

"It will be a nice match-up, a great test for me personally," he said.

"He's certainly made a lot of yards in his ball carries. He's certainly a threat.

"But they've got threats all over the park and, like Cheik said, you need to deal with them up front initially so the blokes like Fekitoa, Smith, Osborne, guys like that, aren't getting that type of go-forward ball because that's when they're at their most dangerous.

"We'll have to be very strong throughout the midfield to stop their momentum and not give them the time and space that other teams have been giving them."

The table-topping Tahs can clinch a home final with victory over the Highlanders, but they know it won't be easy.

The Highlanders are flying along in equal first in the New Zealand conference after taking down the two-time defending Super champions the Chiefs last outing.

"To nullify their threats and to maintain ours, you're going to have to be working hard all the time because of the way we want to play the game," Cheika said.

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