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Adam Ashley-Cooper ranks as one of Australia's all-time greats

The Bordeaux-bound wing has been one of the Wallabies’ best servants of all.

Murray Kinsella reports from London

WHEN DOES AN unsung hero become sung? Adam Ashley-Cooper will win cap 114 of an incredible Australia career in tomorrow’s World Cup final and his importance to the Wallabies is as great as ever.

Adam Ashley-Cooper scores his sides first try Ashley-Cooper has been vital to the Wallabies for a decade. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The 31-year-old is destined for France following this tournament to begin a deservedly lucrative two-year contract with Bordeaux, but he has been one of Australian rugby’s best servants.

Only two Australians have won more Test caps than Ashley-Cooper, namely George Gregan (139) and Nathan Sharpe (116). The Sydney native belongs alongside men like that pair in any debate about the Wallabies’ best players of all time.

Versatility is said to be the downfall of many potential stars, but Ashley-Cooper made the deal straightforward even without always having one defined position. He has been so good that he has simply had to start in the Australia backline since his debut in 2005.

Ashley-Cooper wore the 12, 13 and 14 jerseys for the Wallabies in the 2007 World Cup, before featuring at 11, 13, 14 and 15 four years later. All the seasons in between and afterwards saw him hop wildly between backline roles too.

Wherever Ashley-Cooper has been situated, he has brought consistent excellence to the table. He has earned his place at the head, with Michael Cheika backing the 31-year-old as his first-choice right wing since taking over last year.

Unsurprisingly, the results have been exceptional. Four tries in three Rugby Championship starts and now four in five World Cup games, Ashley-Cooper has been as effective as ever for the Wallabies.

His defensive skills are a major strength in the wide channels, with his communication, composure, footwork, power in the hit and intelligence in reading the opposition providing Cheika’s men with confidence that they can cope on the edges.

Ashley-Cooper has always been an underrated attacking weapon too, his 37 Test tries possibly not ample reward for the damage he has done when Australia have had possession.

AustraliaÕs Adam Ashley-Cooper applauds the fans after the match Few would begrudge AAC a World Cup title. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

As well as being an excellent carrier himself thanks to a powerful stride and clever lines of running, Ashley-Cooper is about as selfless a player as you’ll find. His work off the ball, through decoy-running and holding width, has so often allowed others to steal the limelight.

The ability not to make mistakes is an underrated attribute and this Wallaby has been about as error-free as you will find anywhere in the world.

Seeing Ashley-Cooper rewarded with a hat-trick last weekend against Argentina would have satisfied the AAC converts, but that collection of ‘meat pies’ didn’t seem to excite the man himself too greatly.

He simply jogged back beyond halfway and readied himself for the restart – another area of the game in which he excels.

The beginning of Ashley-Cooper’s international career was oddly prophetic in that he wasn’t supposed to be in the matchday squad at all and ended up playing in a jersey without a number on its back.

On the eve of his biggest day yet as a Wallaby, the memory of 2005 against South Africa in Perth came back to Ashley-Cooper.

“I was in the stands three minutes before kick-off and Elton Flatley had suffered a head injury in the warm-up, hence the reason they called me and said ‘get down to the changing room,’” says Ashley-Cooper.

“I actually ran down there not knowing what it was for. I thought I had to go down to clap the guys on.

“I got down there and Phil Thompson, the manager at the time, gave me a jersey without a number on its back and said that I’d be debuting for the Wallabies that night.”

Adam Ashley-Cooper scores his second try The 31-year-old bagged a hat-trick last weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It took almost a decade for Ashley-Cooper to permanently nail down his own number, but there was never any doubt in Cheika’s mind about who would be wearing 14 in this World Cup.

Having played a major role in the Wallabies’ journey to the final, Ashley-Cooper’s hunger is undiminished. His first World Cup experience in 2007 – one that ended in failure – filled the former Berkeley Vale High School student with a desire to reach the very peak of the game.

“I remember turning up to France and feeling the atmosphere of a World Cup and how exciting and motivating and inspirational it was,” says Ashley-Cooper. “I was playing with some heroes of mine, we had a great team that I was in awe of.

“The likes of George Gregan, Stephen Larkham, Stirling Mortlock, Matt Giteau – who’s still here today – and a list of others. We played really well throughout the pool stages and I’m not too sure how we approached that quarter-final, but maybe we expected it was going to happen.

“England rolled us, 12-10, and we didn’t turn up. They were the much better team on the day and it was over like that.

“It went from the best experience of my life to being severely depressed and disappointed and suffering heartache. I didn’t really want to think about the game for a while after that, it took me a long time to recover.

“Ever since then, I’ve always wanted success in a World Cup. Now I’ve got an opportunity on the weekend to feel and taste that success.”

Few would begrudge Ashley-Cooper a slice.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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