Super Rugby Semi-Final: Ashley-Cooper Ready To Make History
The last time the Waratahs and the Brumbies clashed in a Super Rugby semi-final back in 2002, a promising young 18-year-old was watching his Uncle, former Wallaby Graeme Bond, run out for the Canberrans. Three years later, Adam Ashley-Cooper was on the big stage himself, making his Super Rugby debut in the nation’s capital and kick-starting a career which has since earned 94 caps for his country and a reputation as arguably the finest utility back in the world game.
A leaguie until the age of 15, Ashley-Cooper says the influence of Bond as a role model played a large part in his decision to chase a career in union. “For me, up until I was 17, it was about getting through high school, getting to University and becoming a PE teacher and rugby was just something I enjoyed doing on weekends,” he told Rugby News.
“After I turned 17, I made the New South Wales representative team and then I felt it was something I really wanted to pursue. My Uncle was playing for the Wallabies that year and he was a bit of a family hero back then and he was someone I looked up to and wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
After eight years with the Brumbies, Ashley-Cooper returned to his home state in 2012 and has been a major driving force in the sea change that has taken place at the Waratahs. Vice-captain for the team and now vice-captain for his country, his leadership skills, exemplary attitude and consistent performance levels mean he is a benchmark for those around him but despite his longevity at the peak of his profession, domestic success has proved elusive thus far.
Tonight, his current team will take on his former team once again for a place in next week’s title decider. For the Waratahs, it is a chance to host their first ever Grand Final and he is champing at the bit for the opportunity to make history for his team and for himself, however, he is under no illusions as to the difficulty of the task at hand.
“I’ve been playing Super Rugby since 2005 so this is my 10th year and I’ve never played finals so, personally, to be in a semi-final is really exciting and a great achievement,” he says. “To be playing the Brumbies, a team that I played with for eight years is also exciting but we’re certainly not getting ahead of ourselves as these guys had a win last week against the Chiefs, the reigning champions, and are coming in off the back of a loss to us not so long ago, so it’s a huge challenge for us and I’m hoping that we get a full house at Allianz Stadium to help get us home.”
With ticket sales edging over the 40,000 mark already, that wish looks like being fulfilled and with the two sides in red hot form and having gained a win apiece from their two clashes in the regular season, tonight’s clash looms as one for the ages. While Ashley-Cooper feels that both sides will know each other well, forewarned isn’t always forearmed and the Waratahs will need to be firmly on their mettle.
“We’ve played them twice this year due to the nature of the competition so we certainly expect and know what they’ll bring to the game,” he says. “There’ll be plenty of physicality, they’ll be hard on our ball, they’ll work efficiently around the park because they’re a complete team and they’ll be really competitive so it’s about matching that physicality and making sure we are fully on our performance.”
Since that 39-8 defeat at the hands of the Tahs four weeks ago, the Brumbies have gone away, licked their wounds and rebounded as a team with more dynamism and thrust than they were previously exhibiting. Coach Stephen Larkham has loosened the shackles, the pace of their game has noticeably increased and 79pts in their last two matches against the Western Force and the Chiefs, give some indication that they have rediscovered their attacking mojo.
However, in the Waratahs, they face the meanest defence in the competition and Ashley-Cooper expects a few subtle changes to the way they approach the match.
“I certainly think they’ll need to throw the ball around and challenge us from all over the park and have a little bit more variation in their attack,” he says. “They’ll look to challenge us in different areas than they have when we previously met so you can expect them to have a few changes in their attack and for us, it’s about being prepared and being ready for all possibilities.
“They’re starting to click, they had a few injuries there about a month ago but they’ve got everybody back on board now and they’ve hit some form so we’ve just got to make sure that we prepare as we have every other week and go out there and put in the performances that we have been to get us to this point.”
Momentum is a wonderful thing in sport and if there are any nerves amongst the Waratahs faithful ahead of tonight’s blockbuster, it may be that their side come into it off the back of a fortnight with no footy while the Brumbies are battle hardened from last Saturday’s thriller against the reigning champions. Conversely, they make take confidence from the fact that their side is refreshed and their batteries recharged, while their opponents have an extra game in their legs.
Ashley-Cooper falls firmly into the second camp. “It’s been a really physically demanding season and having a week off has been fantastic and very beneficial for us. It’s given guys like Rob Horne and Israel Folau an opportunity to freshen up and get over some niggles but we’ve still been working hard. We had a solid week of training last week and a solid week this week without playing so, without the bumps and bruises we’ve been able to really do some extra conditioning work. The boys are pumped and ready to go.”
NSW Waratahs: 1. Benn Robinson (Eastwood), 2.Tatafu Polota Nau (Parramatta), 3. Sekope Kepu (Randwick), 4. Jacques Potgieter (Eastern Suburbs), 5. Kane Douglas (Southern Districts), 6. Stephen Hoiles (Randwick), 7. Michael Hooper (Manly, captain), 8. Wycliff Palu (Manly), 9. Nick Phipps (Sydney University), 10. Bernard Foley (Sydney University), 11. Rob Horne (Southern Districts), 12. Kurtley Beale (Randwick), 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Northern Suburbs), 14. Alofa Alofa (West Harbour), 15. Israel Folau (Sydney University).
Replacements: 16. Tolu Latu (Sydney University), 17. Paddy Ryan (Sydney University), 18. Jeremy Tilse (Sydney University), 19. Will Skelton (Sydney University), 20. Mitchell Chapman (Eastern Suburbs), 21. Pat McCutcheon (Sydney University), 22. Brendan McKibbin (Eastern Suburbs), 23. Taqele Naiyaravoro (Parramatta)
Brumbies: 1. Scott Sio; 2. Josh Mann-Rea; 3. Ben Alexander; 4. Leon Power; 5. Sam Carter; 6. Scott Fardy; 7. Jarrad Butler; 8. Ben Mowen (captain); 9. Nic White; 10. Matt Toomua; 11. Robbie Coleman; 12. Christian Lealiifano; 13. Tevita Kuridrani; 14. Henry Speight; 15. Jesse Mogg
Replacements: 16. Ruaidhri Murphy; 17. Ruan Smith; 18. Allan Alaalatoa; 19. Fotu Auelua; 20. Tom McVerry; 21. Michael Dowsett; 22. Joe Tomane; 23. Pat McCabe