It’S no great surprise that life on the European continent agrees with Adam Ashley-Cooper.
“AAC” has always been one of the more debonair and cultured of the Qantas Wallabies squad. He’s even about to launch his own line of boutique teas, Boutea. It’s enough to make the grizzled players of old throw up their hands and say: “Sacre bleu!”
His first season at new club Bordeaux-Begles, right in the heart of the famous wine-growing region in south western France, was a qualified success on the field, but off it Ashley-Cooper, and fiancée Anna Scrimshaw have been making the most of their new surroundings.
“I’m enjoying the change and I’m really enjoying my time in France,” says Ashley-Cooper with a broad smile. “It’s culturally very different from back home. There’s not much stress, there’s good food, socially they involve a lot of people.
“It’s a really good life. More than anything it’s the change in cultures and lifestyle that I’m enjoying and I’m really embracing.”
The photos are there to prove it, as a quick scan through his Instagram account (@adamcoopy) will attest. Holidaying in sun-drenched Greece, cave diving in Croatia and fine dining at St James Restaurant Gastronomique near his new home town. But it would be hard to find anyone to say Ashley-Cooper doesn’t deserve it.
With 78 caps for the Brumbies from 2005 to 2011, a further 61 at the Waratahs from 2012 to 2015 (including NSW’s first ever Super Rugby title in 2014) and 114 Tests for the Wallabies, Ashley-Cooper has put in the hard yards.
He deserves a bit of a ‘jolly’, and that is exactly what Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll accused him of doing late last year.
"Adam Ashley-Cooper didn't go to Bordeaux to win Top 14 titles,” said the normally jovial former British and Irish Lion. “He went for a bit of sunshine and a bit of money."
AAC bit back, strongly. “Hi @BrianODriscoll” he wrote on Twitter, “Regarding the below (a link to the story) . . . I disagree. Strongly.”
“BO’D” bit back again and the two continued to trade blows in a highly publicised spat, with Ashley-Cooper even posting a mock video of himself tossing cash into the air a la 50 Cent.
In the end both claimed it was a bit of fun, Ashley-Cooper thanking O’Driscoll for helping him “trend in Ireland overnight” but there seemed to be more than a bit of edge in the exchanges. How serious the two men were only they will ever know.
Anybody who knows Ashley-Cooper will know that his new life at Bordeaux is anything but a relaxed stroll. The 32-year-old remains a committed professional training hard and playing fiercely in the intense physical world of French and European Rugby.
“It’s obviously a lot longer season for me than back home” explains Ashley-Cooper. “With the Top 14 and European Cup competitions put together, it’s about 30 or 40 games in the season, so it can be very challenging physically and mentally.
“It requires a bigger depth and a different strategy . . . but I’m enjoying that challenge. Physically, it’s demanding. I’ve played a lot of football and I’m not getting any younger. I’ve just got to stay on top of myself physically and make sure I do everything I can do to play great Rugby.”
He’s also adapting to a different style of game.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on the set piece,” he says, “particularly around the scrum, lineout and driving maul. The game here is more of a wrestle around set piece so you have a lot more stoppages in play and less freedom to play.”
But that restricted style of play has not lessened Ashley-Cooper’s competitive edge.
“Individually, regardless of where I’m playing, I put pressure on myself to win,” he continues. “If you don’t have that pressure, you’re not going to perform. We (Bordeaux) put pressure on ourselves to win . . . for us it’s all about making the finals.”
In the end Bordeaux narrowly missed out on the Top 14 playoffs, after crashing to a heavy defeat in the last round against Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell’s Toulon, allowing Castres to sneak through in sixth spot.
It was a similar story in the European Rugby Champions Cup where only points differential saw them miss out on the quarter-finals after finishing level with the Exeter Chiefs on top of Pool 2.
It is something that Ashley-Cooper is keen to redress next year as he plays a key role in Bordeaux’s multi-cultural backline featuring stars from France, Fiji, South Africa and of course Australia.
“I wouldn’t say I’m the boss,” he said. “I’m a leader, I’m expected (by coach Raphael Ibanez) to share my experiences and my leadership with the team. It’s a pretty young backline.”
In terms of that communication Ashley-Cooper admits to getting by with his best “Frenglish”, though he is studying French a few hours a week.
The Bordeaux backline speaks a “mix of the two languages, a hybrid, ‘Frenglish’. I try to speak Francais as much as a I can but sometimes I can’t help it.
“I try and communicate as much as I can. I’ve played over 100 Tests so I’ve got a responsibility to lead by example.”
Doesn’t sound like a man easing off.
If you needed any further proof that the fire in Ashley-Cooper’s belly still burns the sight of him out on the field tonight facing the might of the All Blacks should be more than enough.
And AAC has just one thing on his mind – getting revenge for the Rugby World Cup Final loss last October.
“That left a sour taste my mouth, to be honest,” he says, the pain still evident. “I didn’t want to finish on that, and I have kept that hunger since the World Cup.”
When Wallabies coach Michael Cheika visited in February Ashley-Cooper, like Mitchell and Giteau, had no hesitation putting up his hand to once more pull on the gold jersey . . . although the early mornings at the Wallabies camp took some getting used to.
“The big thing is the early starts,” he joked soon after arriving back in Australia. “The 6am and 7am starts, these blokes don’t like a sleep-in. We are in a sleep deprivation camp at the moment.”
So wouldn’t he prefer to be taking it easy on the beaches of Hvar than running up hills in Coogee?
“It’s a small price to pay, really,” he says. “You get asked to play for your country, you come home.”
And the good news is he is committed to doing so as long as he is wanted.
“Once the rules had changed,” meaning overseas based players with over 60 Test caps could still play for Australia, “I re-positioned myself to the mindset where I would always put my hand up to play for my country,” he re-iterates.
“I just feel like that’s the ultimate. As long as I am fit and able enough to compete at this level, then I will always put my hand up to play for our country. Cheik asked us to come back, and that’s why we are here.”
The real ultimate however would be holding aloft the Bledisloe Cup, something which Ashley-Cooper has not been able to do in a Test career stretching way back to 2005.
Now that would truly be a great snapshot for Instagram.
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