A quick glance around The Roar and you would think our hopes against the British Lions systematically come down to the trials of the same few headline players: Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Israel Folau and James O’Connor.
They are unpredictable both on and off the field, they are interesting personalities, they are headline-grabbing superstars whose form differential is picked apart by journalists and couch experts alike and for good reason.
They may very well make or break this Wallaby team and good luck to each of them in their efforts to be selected.
However amidst the haystack of articles, comments, team lists, whys and wherefores, is a name which holds the key to our success over the Lions: Adam ‘Mr Versatility, Mr Reliability, Two Dads’ Ashley-Cooper.
I am a big fan of Adam, and at some level always have been.
In the past I have had to vehemently justify his inclusion in teams both provincially and internationally, even when I’ve not been entirely confident in his form myself. He’s been a victim of his own versatility, which has seen him play virtually every backline position on the park to the varied cries of:
“Leave him at fullback”, “Keep him on the bench to cover 12-15”, “Outside Centre is his best position”, “He’s either an average wing or nothin’”.
Finally however, for the first time in his career, he has been given what we’ve been crying out for since he came onto the scene – a consistent position that spans both Super Rugby and Wallaby seasons.
His form since speaks volumes.
He has combined with the Waratahs backline superbly and is a strong reason for their resurgence this year.
Those will remember his last Super foray at outside centre was for the Brumbies to very little effect. In my opinion it was Matt Giteau’s unnatural 10 playing style which hampered him. Gits had a tendency to run across field, leaving AAC fighting a slide defensive pattern and the sideline.
Foley runs straighter at the line leaving Adam with more time and space to get to the outside shoulder and get his famed fend into play.
He’s also finally had time to make the position his own and work out how to get the best out of himself.
There are still those who say he lacks the ability to pass. This, I believe, is short sighted. He does pass and a fair amount too – the stats speak for themselves.
To be honest I would much prefer to see him take the hit or back himself more often anyway. He doesn’t turn the ball over, he always makes it over the gain line and he doesn’t push his wingers into touch.
In short he keeps the ball alive.
Funnily enough his attacking ability is actually what excites me the least. Defensively he’s as safe as houses, tackling anything that comes towards him. This will prove vital against Manu Tuilagi and the rest of the Lions big backs.
He also cleans out on the fringes like a loose forward. He protects the outside backs in isolation and causes havoc to those on the opposition team who find themselves isolated with him around.
Finally, he chases the ball like a rabid moodle. He chases high kicks, long kicks and even, as we saw on the weekend, penalty kicks. This is the kind of commitment that we’ve been missing.
In short, it’s that commitment which is the Wallabies most valuable asset.
He doesn’t rely on flashy plays or self-promoting sound bites. He lets his hard work do the talking and as a result is reaping the benefits more than any other player in the squad.