Adam Ashley-Cooper has slayed the ghosts of Marseille to help pilot Australia into a dream Rugby World Cup final against the All Blacks.
Ashley-Cooper’s historic hat-trick in a 29-15 semi-final triumph over Argentina atoned for his howler in Australia’s humbling 12-10 quarter-final loss to England eight years ago.
On that forgettable afternoon in the south of France, Ashley-Cooper delivered the worst performance of an otherwise sterling 113-Test career.
But the 31-year-old erased the bitter memories with tries in the ninth, 31st and 71st minutes at Twickenham to become the first-ever Wallaby to bag a World Cup semi-final hat-trick.
Fittingly, Ashley-Cooper’s second and third tries were set up by two of the other three survivors from the Marseille meltdown – best mates Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell, whose dazzling run nine minutes from fulltime sealed Australia’s win.
“I’ve been playing the game for a long time now and all I’ve wanted to do is play in a World Cup final and I’m there, so I’m extremely stoked,” he said after also surpassing the great John Eales to become Australia’s second-most capped World Cup player.
With 16 World Cup games over three tournaments, Ashley-Cooper stands behind only fellow former captain George Gregan, who played 20 Tests in four appearances at the global showpiece.
“What a night he won’t forget,” Gregan said in commentary for Fox Sports.
Eales said the utility ace – the only man to play 560 minutes at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand – would forever be remembered for his hat-trick heroics on one of rugby’s greatest stages, just like legendary All Black Jonah Lomu is for setting the same venue alight 20 years ago.
“Everyone keeps talking about those four tries he (Lomu) scored against England in a World Cup semi-final,” Eales said.
“Three tries is an extraordinary effort in any game, but a World Cup semi-final and he will be remembered for that – but among many, many things.
“He’s been great for over 100 games. It’s hard to pick out the special moments for him.”
Gregan is hoping Ashley-Cooper’s career defining moment is still to come in what may be his international swansong against the All Blacks on Saturday.
“I’m sure he’ll want to be remembered for winning a World Cup next week and this week was a part of getting there, (getting) a ticket to the dance,” Gregan said.
“And if he doesn’t get a try next week and the Wallabies win, then he’ll be as happy as anything because that would finish off a great, great career for a wonderful Wallaby.”