Wearing the scars of another bruising training session, Adam Ashley-Cooper didn’t need to explain the intensity the Wallabies would bring to their Rugby World Cup semi-final; his face said it all.
The 31-year-old is in his third World Cup campaign and will become Australia’s second-most capped World Cup player, with his 16 games behind only champion halfback George Gregan’s 20, when he runs out against Argentina on Sunday (Monday 0300 AEDT).
Although his face picked up another cut at training on Friday – thanks to an accidental elbow from teammate Rob Horne – it is the mental scars of failed campaigns which are most uncomfortable for the versatile back, who will start on the right wing at Twickenham.
A shock quarter-final loss to England in 2007 and a 20-6 semi-final loss to the All Blacks last World Cup, where the fatigued Wallabies were always on the back foot and struggled to fire a shot, both haunt him.
They aren’t the type of memories he wants to take from the World Cup when he finishes his career, admitting that, at 31, this will be his final outing in rugby union’s premier event.
“I have missed out twice already and that’s enough disappointment and heartache to know what it feels like, to not progress through,” Ashley-Cooper said.
“I know what the disappointment feels like and it stings for years.
“I am still stinging from the 07 quarter-final loss and I am still stinging from the All Blacks semi-final loss in New Zealand (in 2011).
“I don’t really want to experience that again.
“I have been there and I guess that is something I can share with the younger blokes.
“I know what it feels like, it sucks and I don’t want to feel that again.”
That’s a message which is being passed on from the Wallabies elder statesmen – the likes of Ashley-Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Stephen Moore and Matt Giteau, who are all in their third campaigns.
If the adage of ‘train like you play’ rings true for the Wallabies, then Los Pumas face a nightmare contest this weekend.
Lock Dean Mumm has lost count of the number of times he’s broken his nose in training during the tournament, while durable flanker Scott Fardy is almost unrecognisable without bloodied bandages on his face.
The sight of flanker Sean McMahon and winger Horne, who both missed out on selection against Argentina, tearing into teammates at training is enough to elicit a wry smile from coach Michael Cheika – even if it results in more blood spilt by the likes of Ashley-Cooper.
“It’s hard for a player, knowing that he’s not selected to be motivated to still train at his best and test the guys that are starting,” Ashley-Cooper said.
“It says a lot about the guys in the team, the humility, the selflessness.
“And the guys that aren’t getting selected are doing that and that’s probably why we are here today.
“We know that the semi-final is going to have that intensity and that physicality, you need to have that during the training.
“You need to experience that. You need to stay battle hard, as Cheik would say.
“And feel that pain, feel that intensity during the week. So you are ready for the weekend.”