Waratahs recruit Adam Ashley-Cooper might wear Kurtley Beale’s old jersey this Super Rugby season, but team-mates argue there’s no way the versatile Wallaby is filling anyone’s shoes.
Ashley-Cooper wasn’t expected at pre-season training until next Monday, but ended his holiday early to start preparations for NSW a week early.
His eagerness to make an immediate impression is an encouraging sign for the Waratahs, who are adjusting to life without one of the game’s most potent attacking weapons in Beale.
Although no decision has been made on where the former Brumby will line up in the backline, there’s no doubt he and playmaker Berrick Barnes are the star power the Waratahs will be relying on this season.
However, NSW centre Rob Horne made it clear Ashley-Cooper, one of the Wallabies best throughout last year’s World Cup, isn’t replacing anyone.
“I’m not sure he needs to fill any shoes. In his own right he’s a pretty special talent so he’ll bring something different to the group,” said Horne.
“To have him come back a week earlier, it’s definitely a good sign and it’s good for all the guys who have been training to see his work ethic and how he goes about his business.
“It’s a little bit different without Kurt, you get used to his energy being around, but in saying that … you can’t help but feel the enthusiasm and competitiveness in the squad.”
Fellow utility Lachie Turner says the Waratahs won’t lose any strength in their backline with Ashley-Cooper coming on board.
“I think people forget that Coopie’s played double the caps for Australia (that Beale has),” said Turner.
“He played every minute of the World Cup, he’s got the fastest hat-trick in World Cup history so he’s no attacking slouch and his defensive work and the work he does under the high ball is phenomenal.
“I know Coopie will do more than just fill the gaps, he’ll thrive in whatever position you put him in.
Turner also tipped captaincy candidate Barnes to have the best season of his career so far.
“I think Berrick’s in a really good spot at the moment,” Turner said.
“The way he finished last year and got through those personal battles (related to repeated concussions) he came back far stronger than he’s ever been. I think we’ll see the best year he’s ever had.”
Turner said he’s happy to play anywhere in the backline, but would ideally love to push Ashley-Cooper out of the No.15 shirt.
Both Horne and Turner are confident NSW are adjusting well to life under new coach Michael Foley and without core players Beale, inspirational captain Phil Waugh and the experienced Al Baxter and Luke Burgess.