The ‘Mister Fix It’ of the Australian backline, ADAM ASHLEY-COOPER, starts 2013 just four wins short of joining a select group of players who have enjoyed 50 Test wins in the Qantas Wallabies jersey. Eight of those have been achieved during Australia’s last eight Tests against Wales, joining flanker David Pocock and prop Ben Alexander as the only players to have featured in every game of the Wallabies’ winning run against that nation.Ashley-Cooper is fast rising on the overall Australian appearance charts, finishing 2012 with 24 Test appearances starting at fullback to his name (which ranks him one behind the third-placed Roger Gould), and 35 in the centres (30 at outside centre, five at inside centre). This places him seventh overall in that position. The remaining 18 caps he has earned have come running from the wing. Such is his on-field value; just six of his 77 Test appearances have come from the bench.Last year saw the wonderfully versatile 29-year-old start Tests from three different positions (fullback, wing and centre), while missing just two of the 15 games Australia played – which was some achievement given the horrendous injury toll experienced by the side. As it was, one of the games Ashley-Cooper did miss, against Argentina at Rosario, was a result of the concussion he received while making a try-saving tackle the previous week against South Africa at Pretoria.While Ashley-Cooper doesn’t remember that tackle, all of Australia remembers one that he had made a month earlier in the first Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate Test of the year, where he had shepherded two South African attackers towards the sideline and then bundled them both into touch with the goal-line beckoning. Such commitment is typical of ‘AAC’, who has missed just seven of the 75 Tests played by Australia since the start of 2008. This tally includes being the only member of the Wallabies to play all 13 Tests in 2011. A year earlier, he had made his maiden appearance for the Barbarians during the win over South Africa at Twickenham before returning 12 months later to be Australia’s man of the match during the record 60-11 drubbing that the Wallabies administered to the prestigious British festival club.Ashley-Cooper’s busy 2011 saw him become the only player to feature in every minute of a full Rugby World Cup campaign of seven matches. He scored seven tries in that time, which made him the tournament’s second most prolific try-scorer. That included three in an eight-minute period during Australia’s 67-5 win over the United States at Wellington. Not only was that first hat-trick of Ashley-Cooper’s career at any level, the three tries gathered between the 58th and 66th minutes of that match represented the fastest hat-trick in Rugby World Cup history. It was also just the 26th instance of an Australian scoring three or more tries in a Test match.Earlier in the season, Ashley-Cooper had scored his eighth try in Tri Nations during the win over South Africa in Sydney. Only three Australians scored more in the 15 years of that competition – all scoring nine.Ashley-Cooper became the 35th Australian to surpass a half century of Test appearances during the Wallabies win over Italy in Florence in 2010, and then ended that Test year by winning the team’s internal Player of the Match award in the 59-16 thumping of Six Nations champions France in Paris. Ashley-Cooper opened the scoring in that match with Australia’s first try. It was his fourth of the Test season – only four players in the team scored more. This followed on from the five he contributed in 2009; the most memorable of which came against England during the Cook Cup success at Twickenham. Australia was recording back-to-back wins at the ground in consecutive years for the first time; with Ashley-Cooper bagging tries in both games.The Ashley-Cooper versatility has not just been a feature of his Test career. He also regularly featured from three different positions – centre, wing and fullback –for the Brumbies in Super Rugby, and has served the NSW Waratahs in a similarly versatile manner since he relocated to Sydney last year.Although he made his debut in Perth nine seasons ago, Ashley-Cooper had to wait until 2007 for his first Test try, which came during his maiden Test start, against the All Blacks at the MCG. His debut against South Africa at Perth in 2005 came about in unusual circumstances when, having been called into the squad as a replacement, he was then called out of the crowd to sit on the bench, after Elton Flatley injured himself in the warm up. Ashley-Cooper came onto the bench, being required to take the field in an un-numbered jersey two minutes before the end.Ashley-Cooper was a late-comer to Rugby, taking up the game as a 15-year-old while living on the Central Coast in NSW. He is the nephew of the PNG-born ex-Wallaby Graeme Bond. The family descends from the sixth Earl of Shaftsbury, Cropley Ashley-Cooper (1768-1851). The Earl represented Dorchester in Parliament for 21 years and was a descendant of William the Conqueror.Fast Fact: Adam Ashley-Cooper has scored six tries from 17 Tests against the All Blacks, with three of them coming in 2010. Only David Campese (eight) and Matthew Burke (seven) have scored more tries against New Zealand. Just 11 Australians have totaled more than the 23 tries Ashley-Cooper has scored in Tests.
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21 MAY 2013